What’s the Difference Between a Food Sensitivity & a Food Allergy?

Eating a food that doesn’t agree with you is never a pleasant experience.

You may experience gastrointestinal distress, or even vomiting.

But how can you tell if what you think is a food sensitivity is actually a food allergy?

While the symptoms of a food intolerance and a food allergy can be similar, the reasons behind the reactions and their possible results are very different.

Digestive Response vs. Immune Response

A food intolerance or sensitivity is something that happens in the digestive system.

Your body is unable to fully process the food, either due to a lack of proper digestive enzymes, sensitivity to additives in your food, or reactions to chemicals that occur naturally in foods. Because of this, you can experience gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Many people who have food sensitivities can consume small amounts of problem foods without issue.

An allergic reaction, on the other hand, means your body’s immune system is rejecting something in the food you have eaten.

When you consume a substance to which you’re allergic, such as peanuts or dairy proteins, your immune system kicks into high gear. It begins to produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE).

These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals that trigger an allergic reaction.

Each type of IgE triggers an allergic reaction to a different substance, and a true food allergy can be confirmed by testing for levels of IgE in the blood.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food can include hives, itchiness, and swelling of the skin, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and nausea. Not all allergic reactions include gastrointestinal symptoms, but gastrointestinal symptoms rarely occur alone.

If you have a severe allergic reaction to a food substance, you may have an anaphylactic reaction.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, dizziness, or loss of consciousness. Without immediate treatment, including an injection of epinephrine, anaphylaxis can be fatal.

What to Do If You Suspect a Food Allergy

If you suspect that the symptoms you experience after eating a specific food item may be due to an allergy to a food, see an allergist as soon as possible.

An allergist will test to see if you have an allergy, with methods that may include skin testing or blood testing.

If an allergy is confirmed, you and your allergist will work together on an allergy management plan to help you maintain your current lifestyle while avoiding triggering your allergy.

Experienced Food Allergy Diagnosis & Management

At the Mississippi Asthma & Allergy Clinic, our team of skilled doctors has years of experience diagnosing and managing all sorts of food allergies. Whether you need testing to confirm an allergy or want to create a new management plan, our allergy doctors can help. Schedule an appointment in one of our five convenient locations today!