Allergic or Intolerant: How to Detect the Difference

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graph of food allergies

Many people have physical reactions after eating certain foods, but it doesn’t always mean they have a food allergy. Some physical reactions describe an intolerance instead of an allergy. A food intolerance is defined as a digestive response while a food allergy is defined as an immune system response. NY Allergy & Sinus Centers knows how similar the reactions can be, so we’re here to help you detect the difference.

Symptoms Of A Food Allergy

Allergic reactions are more severe than an intolerance. They involve the immune system trying to fight off a food protein. The symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Chest pain                                                               
  • Swelling of airways to the lungs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hives/Itchy Skin
  • Cramping or stomach pain
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that does not happen to people who are just intolerant to a certain food. While it is rare, anaphylaxis can be fatal with most of the fatal incidents resulting from peanut allergies.

Symptoms Of A Food Intolerance

Food intolerance symptoms are less severe and only cause a slight discomfort. While most symptoms are related to digestive problems, there are others that define a food intolerance. These symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervousness or irritability

The most common food intolerance is from lactose. Symptoms typically start 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking dairy-based food.

How To Know For Sure Whether It’s An Allergy Or An Intolerance

The easiest and safest way to know for sure is to visit a Board Certified Allergist and get allergy tested. Your allergist will perform an allergy skin prick test or blood test. A food challenge test is also a choice. In this case, you will be given small but increasing amounts of the food and monitored very closely for any reaction. This challenge should only be administered in a clinical setting. Do not attempt this at home.

Call now to book your appointment and know if you are allergic or intolerant.

Meet The Physician Collaborator

Dr. Sima Patel is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. She is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine as well as the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Patel by calling (212) 686-4448 or by visiting one of our seven locations throughout Manhattan and Queens.