Distinguishing between a food intolerance and a food allergy

Food intolerance refers to a physical response to a food that is not an allergic reaction. It differs from a food allergy in that it does not involve the immune system. Medical testing may be required to make the distinction between the two. Food intolerances and food allergies are treated differently.

Differences between food intolerances and food allergies are shown below.

Food allergy symptoms versus food intolerance symptoms
Food allergy symptoms: Food intolerance symptoms:
Come on quickly, usually within an hour. Take longer to appear.

Can be severe, including difficulty breathing and possibly fatal anaphylaxis.

Generally are not severe.

May include nausea, vomiting, painful cramping, diarrhea, andhives or wheezing. See an illustration of hives.

Usually are only digestive—nausea, vomiting, painful cramping, and diarrhea.

Last Updated: March 9, 2009

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