Food Allergies, Food Intolerance, Lactose Intolerance - What's the Difference?

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Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerances

The differences between food allergies and food intolerances deals with how the body regards and reacts to the foods. Though some of the symptoms may be the same, such as stomach pain and nausea. The way the body reacts to a food allergy can be much more severe- even leading to death.

Food allergies generally effect a larger number of children than adults (about 2% of adults compared to 6% of children) and in many cases can be outgrown. Many adults believe they are experiencing a food allergy when symptoms like nausea, gas, diarrhea, or cramps occur. These symptoms, however, may be due to a condition called lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance is a fairly common condition (approximately 30 million adults may suffer in some degree), though it is not a food allergy; rather it involves the body’s inability to absorb the sugar found in milk due to a lack of enzymes called lactase. The symptoms occur when a milk or milk product has been consumed, but can be relieved by taking an over the counter medicine formulated for absorbing gas. Complications can also be completely avoided by taking an over the counter medication before enjoying the problematic food, though dairy products should be consumed very moderately.

**Symptoms of Food Allergies

A true food allergy is an immune system response, occurring when the body reacts to a particular food as if it were harmful. The body begins to reject the food by creating antibodies to destroy it. The most common food allergies include nuts, fish, eggs, wheat and soy products. The symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Irritated skin including rash or hives
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anaphylaxis

Symptoms of Food Intolerances

Food intolerances occur within the digestive system, as seen in lactose intolerant individuals. When the food ingested cannot be properly digested the result is:

  • Stomach pain, gas and cramps
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart burn
  • Head aches
  • Irritability

People dealing with food allergies must be diligent to avoid the culprit foods. While those with food intolerances may indulge on occasion (within reason). In emergency situations epinephrine can be injected (a prescription for food allergies) to open airways and reverse the body’s response to food allergies. Medical attention should always proceed an attack.