What’s the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Intolerance or Sensitivity?


Ever eat anything that didn’t agree with you? If you experience symptoms like headache, diarrhea, or even vomiting soon after eating the food in question, you may wonder if you are allergic or have a food sensitivity. Because symptoms of food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities can overlap, it may be hard to know what’s causing your body’s reaction.

Although many people use the terms interchangeably, identifying which one is causing your symptoms is necessary if you want to get the right treatment. Keep reading to learn how to differentiate symptoms for food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities, plus how to treat them.

Food Allergies: Your Immune System Plays a Role

When you’re experiencing a food allergy, food allergen-specific antibodies (IgE antibodies) recognize the protein in the offending food and cause an immune reaction. But those antibodies aren’t present in a food intolerance or sensitivity, explains Sayantani Sindher, MD, a clinical associate professor, researcher, and allergist at Stanford Health Care in California.

An allergic reaction can range from mild to life-threatening, and can cause a variety of symptoms that affect the skin, digestive tract, and respiratory system. Food allergies often begin in childhood, but they can occur at any age.


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