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Food allergy vs. Food Sensitivity: Know the Difference

Knowing the difference between food allergy and food sensitivity or intolerance could eliminate unnecessary stress and anxiety and could literally save your life.

Food sensitivity or intolerance:

The difference between a food allergy and sensitivity or intolerance is the body’s response. Food sensitivities are not life threatening and are mostly due to the body’s inability to process or digest food; the reaction is triggered in the digestive system. Your immune system is not involved. You may be sensitive or intolerant to a food for various reasons, including:

  • Reactions to sulfites or artificial colors.
  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a specific food. Lactose intolerance is a very good example.
  • Recurring stress or psychological factors like an exaggerated dislike of certain foods, or food anxiety.
  • Sensitivity to caffeine.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.

The symptoms of food sensitivity or intolerance are mainly digestive-related and can include cramping, diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, or constipation.

If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, your physician may recommend steps to aid the digestion of certain foods.

Food allergy:

Food allergy symptoms happen when the body’s immune system overreacts to a food or a substance in a food, identifying it as a threat and triggering a protective response causing the allergic reaction. They are most common in babies and children but can appear at any age.

If you have a food allergy, you may be at risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. You may need to carry an emergency epinephrine shot, like an EpiPen, for emergency self-administered treatment.