Knowing the difference between food intolerance and allergy will help figure out if you're suffering from a food intolerance.
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What is a food allergy?
In the case of a classic food allergy, also known as allergy type I, the immune system produces IgE antibodies. Someone with a type I allergy to peanuts will know immediately. The symptoms will appear within seconds or minutes – swelling, breathing difficulties, rash, itchy skin and even anaphylactic shock. Identification of such an allergy is normally pretty straightforward. IgE tests are used for confirmation of the allergy (traditionally, a scratch or skin-prick test).
What is a food intolerance?
More common are delayed food allergies (allergy type III), also called food intolerance. In this case the immune system produces IgG antibodies. These cause a delayed reaction (as long as three days) leading to inflammation which can become chronic.
Because of the delay in food intolerance symptoms manifesting, it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint which foods we are intolerant to. If you want to find out more about food intolerance, do not hesitate to read my article What food can we be intolerant to?
What is the difference between the two?
When confronted with a classic food allergy your body reacts almost immediately. On the other hand, the reaction to an intolerance to foods may take days (up to 72 hours) to appear. This difference in speed of reaction is caused by the immune system producing different antibodies in the fight against the different allergies.
Treating food allergy or intolerance
The easiest way to treat a food allergy or intolerance is to eliminate completely the offending food from the diet.
In most cases of food allergy the offending food will be eliminated for life from the diet.
On the other hand, when it comes to food intolerance, sometimes it is possible to reintroduce the, once offending, food. In fact, sometimes, the body can tolerate the food if it has been avoided for a time, then reintroduced in small doses.
- Food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity: What’s the difference, and why does it matter?
- TPV Podcast, Episode 289: Food Allergy, Sensitivity, and Intolerance: What’s the Difference?
- TPV Podcast, Episode 295: Can Food Intolerances Be Fixed?
- Do An Elimination Diet to Uncover Food Allergies or Sensitivities