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Many people confuse a food allergy with food intolerance. They have many similar symptoms, but they’re not the same thing, and the differences between the two are important. Both conditions usually involve the digestive tract, with uncomfortable symptoms like bloating and cramping, and can leave you feeling miserable. But if you have a food allergy, your reaction can potentially be life-threatening. Because of this, it's crucial to find out whether your reaction is a result of an allergy or intolerance in order to determine the appropriate management plan.
A food intolerance, or a food sensitivity, happens when you experience difficulty digesting a particular food. It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of the world’s population may have a food intolerance. Symptoms of food intolerance can be delayed by up to 48 hours and last a long time, making the offending food especially difficult to pinpoint. Common symptoms include:13
Food allergies have a wide variety of symptoms, which include:
Food allergies are one of the most common causes of anaphylaxis, a rare but serious allergic reaction. Even small amounts of food can cause a reaction.1-5 In fact, studies show that people allergic to peanuts have a higher risk of anaphylaxis compared with people who are allergic to other foods, like milk or egg.3
Learn more about anaphylaxis >
Eight common food allergies you should be aware of include: egg, milk, peanut, tree nut, seafood and shellfish, fruit and vegetable, soy, and wheat.
Click on the images below to learn more about each allergen.
Globally, as many as 250 million people may suffer from food allergies.11 More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions.12 Managing food allergies requires dietary changes, of course, but they can affect your lifestyle too. These changes can be challenging and even overwhelming: The constant vigilance necessary to avoid accidental exposure to certain foods can be stressful and frustrating.
It can be difficult to deal with the loss of safety and spontaneity that comes with a food allergy diagnosis. Parties and other social situations should be a time to enjoy and relax; but they can become difficult to negotiate and can potentially be embarrassing. This is the daily reality of
living with a food allergy or caring for someone who has one.
While most people think of children when it comes to food allergies, you can develop an allergy at any age. And many people who say they have some form of a food allergy have diagnosed themselves and haven’t spoken with their healthcare professional about their symptoms. Don’t try to manage the problem on your own. A simple blood test—together with your medical history—can help identify underlying allergen triggers. And knowing if you’re allergic and what you are allergic to may also help you avoid more serious issues in the future. For example, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER every 3 minutes.14 Your daily quality of life can improve drastically just from knowing where your symptoms stem from, and managing them appropriately.
Knowing what causes your symptoms can help you get relief. Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional.