Suffering from food: Mild intolerance or dangerous allergy?


Food intolerances and allergies are becoming increasingly common in today’s society. Many people experience discomfort or adverse reactions after consuming certain foods, but it can be challenging to determine whether these symptoms are caused by a mild intolerance or a dangerous allergy. This article aims to shed light on the differences between the two and provide guidance on how to identify and manage them.

Understanding Food Intolerance

Food intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty digesting certain foods. It is typically caused by a lack of specific enzymes needed to break down certain components of the food, such as lactose or gluten. Common symptoms of food intolerance include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. These symptoms are usually delayed and can occur several hours after consuming the problematic food.

Unlike food allergies, food intolerances are not life-threatening. However, they can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and cause discomfort. It is important to note that food intolerances are dose-dependent, meaning that consuming small amounts of the problematic food may not cause any symptoms, while larger quantities can trigger a reaction.

Identifying Food Intolerance

Identifying food intolerance can be challenging as symptoms can be vague and vary from person to person. However, keeping a food diary can be helpful in identifying patterns and potential trigger foods. By recording what you eat and any symptoms experienced, you may be able to identify specific foods that consistently cause discomfort.

Elimination diets can also be effective in identifying food intolerances. This involves removing suspected trigger foods from your diet for a period of time and then reintroducing them one at a time to see if symptoms reoccur. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting an elimination diet to ensure proper guidance and to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.

Understanding Food Allergy

Food allergies, on the other hand, are immune system reactions to specific proteins in food. When someone with a food allergy consumes the allergenic food, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as harmful and releases chemicals, such as histamine, to protect the body. This immune response can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe, and can even be life-threatening in some cases.

Common symptoms of food allergies include hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death. It requires immediate medical attention and the use of an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen.

Identifying Food Allergy

Identifying food allergies can be easier than identifying food intolerances, as symptoms typically occur shortly after consuming the allergenic food. If you suspect a food allergy, it is crucial to consult with an allergist or immunologist for proper diagnosis and testing. They may perform skin prick tests, blood tests, or oral food challenges to determine the specific allergen causing the reaction.

It is important to note that food allergies can develop at any age, even if you have previously consumed the food without any issues. Therefore, it is essential to be vigilant and seek medical advice if you experience any concerning symptoms after eating certain foods.

Managing Food Intolerance and Allergy

Once you have identified whether you have a food intolerance or allergy, managing your condition is crucial to prevent discomfort and potential complications.

For food intolerances, the primary management strategy is to avoid or limit the consumption of the problematic food. This may involve reading food labels carefully, avoiding cross-contamination, and finding suitable alternatives or substitutes for the problematic ingredient.

For food allergies, strict avoidance of the allergenic food is essential. This may require careful reading of ingredient labels, informing restaurants and food establishments about your allergy, and carrying an epinephrine auto-injector at all times in case of accidental exposure.

It is also important to educate yourself and those around you about your condition. This can help prevent accidental exposure and ensure that others understand the seriousness of your intolerance or allergy.


Whether you are suffering from a mild food intolerance or a dangerous food allergy, it is important to understand the differences between the two and seek proper diagnosis and management. Identifying trigger foods, keeping a food diary, and consulting with healthcare professionals are essential steps in managing these conditions and improving your quality of life. By taking the necessary precautions and making informed choices, you can minimize discomfort and potential risks associated with food intolerances and allergies.