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38 differences between Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

38 differences between Food Allergies and Food Intolerances

Food allergies and food intolerances are two different forms of unpleasant reactions that can develop when particular foods are consumed. While they may exhibit certain symptoms in common, they have distinct underlying causes and implications.


A food allergy is an immune system reaction to certain proteins found in foods. When a person who has a food allergy consumes the allergenic food, their immune system responds by generating antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). This immunological reaction causes the release of different substances, including histamine, resulting in a variety of symptoms. Food allergies commonly cause the following symptoms. 

Itchy skin, hives, eczema, or swelling (angioedema) are examples of skin reactions. Sneezing, runny nose, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are all respiratory symptoms. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort are gastrointestinal symptoms.

Cardiovascular symptoms include rapid heart rate and low blood pressure (anaphylaxis in extreme situations). While allergies tend to run in families, it is hard to anticipate whether a kid will inherit a parent’s food allergy or whether siblings will be affected in the same way. According to some research, the younger siblings of a child with a peanut allergy are likewise allergic to peanuts.


Food intolerance is characterized by difficulties digesting or metabolizing specific meals, which can result in a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Food intolerances, unlike food allergies, do not involve the immune system’s response and are often not life-threatening. Instead, they are frequently caused by the body’s inability to adequately break down or metabolize particular food components, such as carbohydrates, proteins, or chemicals.

Common type of food intolerances are.

Lactose Intolerance: This is the most commonly encountered type of food intolerance. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not produce enough lactase, an enzyme required to break down lactose, a sugar present in milk and dairy products. Bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps may occur after eating dairy products.

Fructose Intolerance: Some people have trouble absorbing fructose, a sugar present in fruits and vegetables. This might result in bloating, gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

Histamine Intolerance: Histamine is a substance found in many foods that is implicated in allergic reactions. Some people may have a diminished ability to break down histamine, resulting in symptoms including headaches, hives, stomach difficulties, and nasal congestion after eating histamine-rich meals.

Also Read: Innate Immunity vs Adaptive Immunity- 35 Differences



Food Allergies

Food Intolerance


Immune Response

Involves the immune system’s response to a specific protein in a food

Does not involve the immune system



IgE antibodies are produced in response to the allergen

Enzyme deficiencies, chemical reactions, or sensitivity



Can range from mild hives to severe anaphylaxis

Generally less severe, often gastrointestinal symptoms


Onset of Symptoms

Rapid onset, often within minutes or hours after exposure

Delayed onset, may take hours or days


Common Allergens

Peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat

Lactose, fructose, histamine, additives



Can be life-threatening

Generally not life-threatening


Reaction Threshold

Small amounts can trigger severe reactions

Tolerance level varies, larger amounts may cause symptoms


Immune Mechanism

Involves IgE-mediated immune response

Immune response not typically involved


Histamine Release

Common in allergic reactions

Not typically associated with histamine release


Respiratory Symptoms

Common, such as wheezing, shortness of breath



Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Less common, but can include nausea, vomiting

Common, including bloating, diarrhea, gas


Skin Reactions

Hives, rash, eczema, itching

Not typically associated with skin reactions


Systemic Symptoms

Anaphylaxis, swelling, lowered blood pressure

Mainly gastrointestinal and digestive symptoms


Testing Methods

Skin prick tests, blood tests (IgE levels)

Elimination diets, clinical observations


Diagnosis Process

Often involves allergist consultation and testing

May require trial and error with elimination diets



Strict avoidance of allergen

Avoidance, moderation, enzyme supplements



Cross-reactivity among related allergens is common

Not usually associated with cross-reactivity


Immune Memory

Immune memory may cause repeat reactions to the same allergen

No immune memory, symptoms may vary


Genetic Predisposition

Often has a genetic component

Genetics may play a role in some cases


Long-Term Implications

Risk of severe reactions upon exposure to allergen

Symptoms may persist or improve over time


Lifespan Impact

Lifelong condition, but some may outgrow allergies

May be a lifelong issue, but can be managed


Immune Response Type

Immediate hypersensitivity reaction

Non-immune responses


Reaction Mechanism

Mast cell degranulation, histamine release

Enzyme deficiency, metabolic reactions


Testing Availability

Allergy tests widely available and used

Limited and may require specialized testing


Severity of Skin Reactions

Often severe skin reactions

Mild skin reactions possible


Therapeutic Approach

Epinephrine (for severe reactions), antihistamines

Dietary changes, enzyme supplements


Gastrointestinal Reactions

Less common

Common, often related to digestive processes


Population Prevalence

Affects a smaller percentage of the population

Affects a larger portion of the population


Digestive Symptoms Mechanism

Not typically associated with food intolerances

Often related to enzyme deficiencies


Vomiting and Diarrhea

Less common

Common, especially in lactose intolerance


Severity of Symptoms

Can range from mild to severe

Generally milder symptoms compared to allergies


Management Strategy

Strict avoidance is not always necessary

Avoidance or moderation of trigger foods


Inflammation Involvement

May involve immune-mediated inflammation

Not typically associated with inflammation


Relation to Autoimmune Disease

Can trigger autoimmune responses in some cases

Generally not linked to autoimmune diseases


Age of Onset

Can develop at any age

May develop later in life or after certain triggers


Diagnostic Complexity

Complex diagnostic process

Diagnosing may be less straightforward


Mucosal Involvement

May affect mucosal membranes

Less commonly associated with mucosal reactions


Prevalence in Children

More common in children

Common in both children and adults

Also Read: B Cells vs T Cells- Definition and 25 Key Differences

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is a food allergy identified?

Skin prick testing, blood tests measuring particular antibodies, and oral meal challenges under physician supervision can all be used to diagnose food allergies.

What exactly is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, rapid-onset allergic reaction that affects several body systems. It can induce breathing difficulties, a reduction in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. It necessitates an immediate epinephrine injection as well as emergency medical attention.

How are food allergies dealt with?

Management entails avoiding allergenic foods as strictly as possible, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (if prescribed), and teaching others about the allergy.

Are food intolerances a severe problem?

Food intolerances, unlike allergies, can cause discomfort and have an influence on quality of life. The symptoms vary and might impact the digestive system, the skin, and other organs.

Can food allergies evolve over time?

Some food intolerances can shift. Lactose intolerance, for example, might occur later in life due to decreased lactase synthesis.

Is it possible to treat food allergies or intolerances?

There is currently no cure for food allergies. Some people can manage their intolerances by avoiding trigger foods or taking enzyme supplements.

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