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Food Intolerance and Food Allergy

Food intolerance, or food sensitivity, is not the same thing as having a food allergy.


A food intolerance:

  • Affects your digestive system.
  • Occurs when your digestive system can’t break down certain foods.
  • Causes symptoms like an upset stomach that aren’t life-threatening.
  • Brings on symptoms within a few hours after eating as the food makes its way through the digestive tract.
  • May not cause symptoms if you eat just a small amount of a food.


A food allergy:

  • Affects the immune system.
  • Occurs when your immune system mistakes a protein or other ingredient in food as a threat. Your immune system releases antibodies (proteins) called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight the threat.
  • Causes an allergic reaction, such as hives and swelling, shortness of breath or wheezing.
  • Brings on symptoms within minutes of consuming even a small amount of an allergy-inducing food.
  • May cause a severe, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Without an epinephrine treatment, this reaction can be fatal.