Food Allergy And Intolerance: What Are The Differences?

The symptoms caused by allergy, intolerance, aversion and food poisoning have some similarities. However, these conditions are not due to the same causes. For this reason, it is necessary to identify the source of the problem, in order to be able to give it an effective solution.
Food allergy and intolerance: what are the differences?

Food allergy, intolerance, aversion, intoxication… do you know what are the differences between these four conditions? Even if they can present similar symptoms, in reality the causes that determine them are very different from each other. With this article we will help you identify each of them and discover the reasons that can trigger them.

Differences between food allergy, intolerance, aversion and intoxication

Food allergy

It is a reaction of the immune system to a substance which is not harmful and which is called an allergen. Consequently, it is the response to a false alarm that is accompanied by a symptomatology characterized by:

  • Tingling or itching
  • Edema
  • Urticaria
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or nausea
  • Vomiting and nausea

Allergies can have different intensities, ranging from mild to anaphylactic shock. The latter can be fatal and is fought with drug injections.

Generally, the causes of food allergies are certain proteins found in seafood, nuts, fish, eggs, milk or wheat. Ingesting a small amount of these proteins can initiate the IgE antibody-mediated process.

It is important to see your doctor if you feel tightness in the airways, low blood pressure, rapid pulse or nausea and lightheadedness.

Food allergy to dried fruit
Food allergies occur when the immune system reacts to the presence of allergens. It can occur following the ingestion of seafood, nuts, fish or eggs.

Food intolerance

A food intolerance is an unfavorable reaction that results from the ingestion of certain foods. It occurs due to inadequate digestion, metabolism or assimilation of food, which triggers unwanted effects in the body.

It can be primary (or genetic) if it is hereditary; secondary (or acquired) if the origin is not genetic or if it is reversible within a certain period of time; or congenital if it is hereditary and present from birth.

The substances that have a greater predisposition to cause food intolerance are lactose and gluten. However, there are many others. Typically, intolerance is accompanied by:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Dermatological disorders
  • Neurological problems
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle problems or rheumatism

The most notable differences with respect to food allergy consist in the fact that intolerance does not depend on the immune system and that its symptoms are less acute.

In recent years, individual studies have been carried out in which intolerance to certain foods has been assessed on the basis of a blood test. However, the results of these tests do not possess any scientific evidence.


It is one of the most common eating disorders during the first 3 years of life. It is a persistent rejection of certain foods due to their organoleptic characteristics. Its symptoms include facial grimaces of discomfort, vomiting and expulsion of food.

Often this is a condition that is part of a sensory processing disorder and, consequently, is accompanied by other sensory problems. Normally, it is identified as a result of the child’s constant rejection of the introduction of new foods in his diet.

However, the food he likes is eaten without any problems. In the absence of nutritional supplements, these children will present a nutritional deficit, but without any delay in growth. It is not associated with food allergies or traumatic experiences.

Refusal of broccoli by children
Aversion is persistent rejection of certain foods due to their organoleptic characteristics. It is very common in young children and can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Food poisoning

This is the last of these four different situations. It occurs following the ingestion of a food or liquid that contains bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins produced by the food. It can be triggered by risk factors such as the following:

  • Not washing your hands properly
  • Do not use clean kitchen utensils
  • Errors in food storage
  • Ingestion of water from a well or contaminated

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches or cramps, and fever. These symptoms may begin to appear a few hours after ingesting the contaminated product or days later.

If you have frequent episodes of vomiting or bloody stools, or if your diarrhea lasts more than three days, you should see your doctor. Medical assistance should also be sought if there is a high fever or symptoms of dehydration or muscle tingling.

The most frequent food poisonings are those caused by Clostridium botulinum , Escherichia coli and S almonella . Most strains of these microorganisms are found in meat and eggs, or in open preserves kept at an inadequate temperature.

For all the reasons mentioned, it is of fundamental importance to adopt proper food hygiene and to store food in the right way. For this purpose, it is useful to find out which methods of conservation and handling should be reserved for each type of food.


Despite their similarities in symptomatology, identifying the origin of the problem will allow an effective solution to be adopted and avoid medium and long-term complications.

It is of fundamental importance to identify the differences between food allergy and intolerance, which are often confused. If in doubt, it is always best to contact your doctor.

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