What Is The Difference Between Allergy And Intolerance? (7 Questions Answered)

Quick Summary of What Is The Difference Between Allergy And Intolerance?
1. How are allergies and intolerances different?
2. How do you know if you have a food intolerance?
3. Can you suddenly develop a food intolerance?
4. Can you develop a food intolerance by eating too much of something?
5. Can you test for food intolerance?
6. Can an intolerance turn into an allergy?
7. Can you outgrow food intolerances?

A common misconception is that food allergies and food intolerances are the same things. They aren’t, even though they have many similarities. This article will cover more than just what is the difference between allergy and intolerance. It’ll also answer the most common questions surrounding food intolerance so you’ll know the differences inside and out.

What Is The Difference Between Allergy And Intolerance?

The biggest difference between an allergy and intolerance is that intolerance is a chemical reaction. An allergy is an immune response. Intolerances are never life-threatening. Allergies, on the other hand, can be.

What happens during an allergic reaction?

When you make contact – swallow, inhale, skin exposure – with your allergen (food allergy), your body rushes to attack it. The immune system releases a chemical called histamine as its primary weapon. Histamines originate from mast cells found throughout your body. Your immune system sends messages to mast cells that reside in and around places where foreign substances can get in. For example, your gut, mouth, nose, lungs, and skin.

This is why these are the parts of the body most associated with allergic reactions. Your body quite literally overreacts, dramatically increasing blood flow to the affected area in addition to sending an army of histamines. This results in all the types of reactions that you’re familiar with. Rashes, swelling, itchiness, sneezing, etc. It’s your body trying to expel what it believes to be a harmful intruder.

Depending on the severity of the person’s allergy, this can be life-threatening. This is called anaphylaxis which you can read more about here.

What happens during an intolerance reaction?

An intolerance reaction does not involve the immune system going into red alert mode. The symptoms associated with food intolerance can be similar to those associated with food allergy. It’s just on a smaller scale, in most respects. In fact, the majority of food intolerance reactions can be categorized as digestive discomfort.

For example, the following conditions are within the scope of food intolerance:

Lactose Intolerance (lack of particular digestive enzymes)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, and cramping)
Food Additive Sensitivity (e.g. sulfite, a preservative, can result in asthma attacks)
Celiac Disease (digestive condition triggered by gluten)

None of these conditions put the person at risk of anaphylaxis and are almost never life-threatening in any way. In fact, people with food intolerances can often consume their risky foods, just in small amounts. People with food allergies must avoid their allergen entirely. When discussing what is the difference between allergy and intolerance, this is a major aspect.

How do you know if you have a food intolerance?

If you’re experiencing some kind of digestive discomfort (diarrhea, gas, etc.) without experiencing allergic reactions (itching, swelling, etc.), you may have a food intolerance. At this point, if you’re not sure what food is causing your symptoms, you need to keep a food journal of sorts. Write down everything you eat and take notes of when symptoms occur and when they don’t.

Intolerance symptoms can surface instantly for some people. For others, it can take up to 72 hours for the symptoms to manifest. Take this into consideration when keeping your food symptom log. Figuring out what food you’re intolerant to can take some detective work. Sometimes a person is intolerant to a particular ingredient within a particular food as opposed to simply being intolerant to milk, for example.

You may need to really look at the ingredients that make up the foods you eat regularly in order to pinpoint what the culprit is. Once you start accumulating some data, begin cutting out possible offenders from your diet. Then add them back in after three days. See if your symptoms remain or if they stop. Eventually, you’ll nail it down.

One more thing

Experts suggest cutting out or weaning yourself off coffee, alcohol, and caffeine during this elimination process. These three substances compromise “gut integrity” and make it difficult for your body to truly reveal what you need it to reveal.

The 8 most common food intolerances are dairy, gluten, caffeine, salicylates, amines, FODMAPs, sulfites, and fructose. Do some research on each one if necessary. Make sure your understanding of the question what is the difference between allergy and intolerance is sound. This way you’ll be able to tell the nature of your condition.

Can you suddenly develop a food intolerance?

Yes. There is a small percentage of adults who develop food intolerances and allergies inexplicably. The reasons for this are still not entirely known. Research shows that in almost every case it has nothing to do what that person does or doesn’t eat. There is also no correlation between the existence of childhood intolerances and sudden intolerance development in adulthood.

Some experts expect that these seemingly random biological developments are based on environmental factors. Genetics have almost entirely been ruled out because genetics don’t change that quickly. Others suspect that the increase in these cases are due to antibiotic misuse and/or decrease of dietary fiber in American diets (too much processed food).

As you can see, opinions vary. The data, at this point, doesn’t show anything conclusive. But the answers to what is the difference between allergy and intolerance do play in a role in the development of sudden symptoms.

Can you develop a food intolerance by eating too much of something?

No. There is no research that supports this theory. In fact, research shows the opposite. When you consume a particular food on a regular basis, it increases or maintains your body’s tolerance to that food. The truth is that how food intolerances and food allergies develop is still not entirely clear. There are many theories on the matter, of course.

The only thing we know for sure is that they occur more in children and less in adults.

Can you test for food intolerance?

Certainly. There are a variety of different tests that you can undergo to find out what you’re allergic or intolerant to. In some cases, the afflicted food is obvious and testing isn’t necessary. But when testing becomes needed, there are a handful of different ones.

Tests can be cell-based, antibody-based, muscle response-based, provocation and neutralization-based, even electrodermal-based. Explaining all these tests in detail would be a considerable tangent. Visit this link to learn more about them.

Can an intolerance turn into an allergy?

No. A chemical reaction inside the body cannot transform into an immune response. You either have a food intolerance or a food allergy. There is no risk of an intolerance converting into an allergy. The severity of a particular condition can increase (or decrease), but it does so within the confines of its original nature.

Can you outgrow food intolerances?

Yes. Both intolerances and allergies can disappear over time. In fact, over half of children with food intolerances see their symptoms decline and disappear with age. Children who exhibit more severe symptoms have a higher chance of maintaining their intolerance into and throughout adulthood. But if symptoms are mild-to-moderate, it’s likely that the intolerance will fade away.

The likelihood of outgrowing a food intolerance also depends on its nature. Data shows that egg and milk allergies are outgrown much more than shellfish, for example. Tree nut and peanut allergies lie somewhere in the middle when it comes to rate of decline. However, if you develop an intolerance or allergy as an adult, you are highly unlikely to ever outgrow it.

What Is The Difference Between Allergy And Intolerance? – Conclusion

As you would expect, there is a lot more information on this topic that was not covered here. Visit any links that we included in this article for further information. Also, frequent our Resources Page which we update weekly with new articles on relevant topics.

what is the difference between allergy and intolerance

What Is The Difference Between Allergy And Intolerance?


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