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    Allergies Health Center

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    Food Allergy, or Something Else?

    It’s pretty common to have a reaction to a certain food, but in most cases it’s an intolerance rather than a true allergy. Why does it matter? Although they may have similar symptoms, a food allergy can be more serious.

    These clues can help you figure out if it is an allergy or intolerance. A doctor can help you know for sure.

    Food Allergy:

    • Usually comes on suddenly
    • Small amount of food can trigger
    • Happens every time you eat the food
    • Can be life-threatening

    Food Intolerance:

    • Usually comes on gradually
    • May only happen when you eat a lot of the food
    • May only happen if you eat the food often
    • Is not life-threatening

    Shared Symptoms

    A food allergy and an intolerance both can cause:

    Different Symptoms

    When a food irritates your stomach or your body can't properly digest it, that’s an intolerance. You may have these symptoms:

    A food allergy happens when your immune system mistakes something in food as harmful and attacks it. It can affect your whole body, not just your stomach. Symptoms may include:

    Common Food Allergies and Intolerances

    These triggers cause about 90% of food allergies.

    The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance. It happens when people can’t digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy. Another kind of intolerance is being sensitive to sulfites or other food additives. Sulfites can trigger asthma attacks in some people.

    What about a gluten allergy? While celiac disease -- a long-lasting digestive condition that’s triggered by eating gluten -- does involve the immune system, it doesn’t cause life-threatening symptoms.

    Treatment for Food Allergy

    Your doctor can find out if you have an allergy or intolerance. These things may help:

    • Keep a diary of the foods you eat and the symptoms you have
    • Stop eating some foods to help figure out which one is causing symptoms
    • Have allergy tests

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