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Food allergy or intolerance

The term ‘food intolerance’ and ‘food allergy’ are often confused and are two very different things.

Genuine food allergy is relatively rare.  Only about 2% of the adult population are affected.  A food allergy is a swift response by the body’s immune system to a specific food.  In this type of reaction, the body’s immune system mistakes a food for an ‘invader’ which often results in a rapid allergic reaction often within minutes, but generally within a maximum of two hours.  This type of allergic reaction is commonly associated with reactions to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs and seafood.

Food intolerance is quite different to food allergy and whilst the symptoms can impact the person’s quality of life, they are not life threatening.  Food intolerances are much more common than food allergies.

When foods and drinks are digested the proteins within them are broken down into smaller fragments for easy absorption into the body.  Larger fragments can pass through without breaking down, and sometimes the body reacts by attacking them using antibodies called Immunoglobulin G’s (IgG).

Allergy vs Intolerance

Food Intolerance
Reactions up to 72 hours after eating
Multiple foods can be involved
Any organ system can be affected
Very common
Difficult to self-diagnose
Symptoms can clear after avoidance (3-6 months)
Food Allergy
Immediate reactions (2 hours or less)
Rarely more than 1 to 2 foods
Primarily skin, airways and digestive system
Trace amounts of foods can cause reactions
Caused by raised IgE antibody
Lifelong