The Sneeze

Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance/Sensitivity

August 20, 2021

Written By: Summit Shah MD

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance/Sensitivity?

Deciding between whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance can be very tricky. Many patients end up living with symptoms for many months or years before they are able to figure out an accurate diagnosis. Here at Premier Allergy and Asthma, you can work with one of our board certified allergists to help distinguish between the two.

What is a Food Allergy?

Food allergies happen when your body recognizes part of a food protein to be foreign and dangerous. In reality, we know these foods are not dangerous to most people but when you have a food allergy, a specific antibody in your blood, called IgE, identifies that food protein as dangerous to the body and tries to eliminate it. Once that food protein is ingested, perhaps a peanut or a sip of milk, you can rapidly undergo a systemic allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This reaction can be dangerous and life threatening. 


If you suspect you might have a food allergy, our Providers can help. Thorough history taking, food diaries, allergy skin testing, possible blood tests and ultimately an in-office food challenge can help with the diagnosis of food allergies. An appointment with one of our Providers is the first step in identifying a food allergy. The next steps would be a customized plan which would likely include avoidance, prescribing an epinephrine injector, but also could include food oral immunotherapy.

What is Food Intolerance/Sensitivity?

Food intolerance or sensitivity is a reaction to a food which is NOT life threatening and not mediated by the antibody, IgE. Symptoms of food intolerance can vary from abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, bloating to headaches, weight gain/loss and anxiety. The most frustrating part of food intolerance is the lack of testing. Patients can go for many years from doctor to doctor without a true diagnosis of food intolerance. Further, many of the tests for food sensitivity have not been studied in double-blinded, placebo controlled studies so their validity can be questionable. If you need help distinguishing between a food intolerance or a food allergy, our adult and pediatric Allergists are available to help with your diagnosis.