Up to 10% of adults have food allergies, and even more have food intolerances. Both cause adverse reactions in the body, but what’s the difference between the two?

Learning to recognize the differences between an allergy and intolerance can be difficult. But simply put, allergies can be life-threatening while intolerances are generally just bothersome. At Midwest Allergy Sinus Asthma, our team of advanced practice providers are experts in diagnosing and treating food allergies to help you stay healthy.

Today, we’re exploring the differences between allergies and intolerances. Both involve reactions to food, but they’re different conditions with different symptoms. If you or a loved one has symptoms of an allergy or intolerance, book an appointment at one of our seven locations to find the right course of treatment for you.

An allergy produces an immune response

Your immune system is your body’s mechanism to defend itself and keep you healthy. It fights off germs that can make you sick. But if you have an allergy, your body identifies a generally harmless substance — like cow’s milk or peanuts — as a danger.

If you come in contact with the allergen, your body creates antibodies to fight it and you experience an allergic reaction. Common signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling in the mouth
  • Itchiness
  • Throat-tightening
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting

Severe allergic reactions can send you into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Reactions from a food allergy develop instantly or shortly after you come in contact with the allergen. In some cases, you might only need to touch or eat a microscopic amount of the allergen to experience an allergic reaction.

When you have an allergy, it’s important to have an action plan in case you suffer an allergic reaction. Our team can help you develop a plan that fits your lifestyle, and it’s a good idea to carry an EpiPen® if you or someone close to you has an allergy.

If you think you might have an allergy, don’t wait to make an appointment for a professional diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis for your allergy and learning how to respond in case of a reaction could save your life.

An intolerance causes a digestive response

Unlike an allergy, an intolerance isn’t life-threatening. While some symptoms of intolerance can be similar to an allergic reaction, the body’s response to an intolerance originates in the digestive system and not the immune system.

Signs of an intolerance often include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating or cramping
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

Intolerance can develop over time. If you have an intolerance, you may feel discomfort up to a few hours after eating the food that you’re sensitive to.

Some people can eat small amounts of the food that causes their intolerance without experiencing symptoms, and symptoms often increase if you eat large quantities of the food or eat it frequently. When you’re affected by an allergy, eating any amount of the food causes a reaction.

Still not sure if the symptoms you’re experiencing are the result of allergies or intolerance? Don’t try to figure it out alone. Contact us to book an appointment today.