Food allergy or food intolerance?


Confusion often arises because the symptoms of food intolerances and allergies can appear similar when mild or moderate. While symptoms of food intolerances may be unpleasant or debilitating, the immune system is not involved in food intolerances and therefore there is no chance of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Because symptoms can appear similar, it’s important to seek advice from your GP. A mild allergic reaction to a food can develop into a severe allergic reaction without warning. According to the State Government’s Better Health Channel, two in 100 adults in Australia have food allergies, with one in 10 infants and one in 20 children under five having food allergies.
Food allergy: when your immune system reacts to harmless food as if it were toxic. Food allergies are an overreaction by your body’s immune system to a protein in the food you eat or drink. Symptoms usually appear immediately after consuming the food. Common triggers include: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, fish, sesame, shellfish, soy and lupin account for about 90 per cent of allergic food reactions.
Symptoms of mild to moderate food allergy can include:

  • swelling of the face, lips or eyes
  • rash or hives
  • diarrhoea or cramping
  • abdominal pain and vomiting

Symptoms of severe allergic reactions to food that can be life threatening:

  • swelling of the tongue
  • difficulty breathing, wheeze, persistent cough
  • tightness, swelling in the throat
  • hoarse voice, difficulty talking
  • dizziness or collapse
  • becoming pale and floppy (in young children)

Food intolerance: When your body has a chemical reaction, not an immune response, to the food or drink you consume. Chronic fatigue syndrome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have been associated with food intolerances. Symptoms may take 12 to 24 hours to appear and may be related to the amount (threshold level) of the food or drink consumed. This amount varies for each individual. Common triggers include: dairy products, chocolate, eggs, flavour enhances such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), food additives, strawberries, citrus and tomatoes, wine (particularly red), histamine and other amines in some foods.
Symptoms of food intolerances can include:

  • migraine or headache
  • rash, burning feelings on the skin
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome upsets, diarrhoea
  • nervousness
  • shakes
  • sweating
  • heart palpitations