What are the differences between an allergy and intolerance?
An allergy is an immune system response to a foreign substance that would be harmless to most people. When the food that contains this 'foreign substance' is eaten or made contact with, it triggers an immune response resulting in the release of histamine and other substances in the body. People with food allergies usually can’t tolerate any amounts of the food item.
Food intolerance is more common than a food allergy but does not involve the immune system and the individual can usually tolerate small amounts of the food item.
What are the symptoms of food allergy and intolerance?
Food allergies can cause various symptoms, depending on where in the body the histamines are released. For example, if released in the gut they may cause abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea; if released in the skin they may cause itching and swelling. In some cases the body will grow out of an allergy, especially allergies present in children.
The onset of symptoms of food intolerance is usually slower and may be even hours after eating the food item. The symptoms may also last for several hours, even into the next day and sometimes longer. Intolerance to several foods or a group of foods is common, and it can be much more difficult to decide whether food intolerance is the cause of chronic illness, and which foods or substances may be responsible. A food intolerance may last a lifetime or it may last a shorter period of time so it could be beneficial to experiment with any foods that the body is intolerant to, starting off with very small doses to avoid any discomfort.