Food allergies vs. food intolerances

  • Learn the difference between a food allergy and intolerance.
  • The terms food allergy and food intolerance can be confusing. Although these conditions can share the same symptoms, such as stomach pain and diarrhea, the real difference is how they happen in the body.
  • Food allergies happen when the body’s immune system abnormally reacts to a food.
  • Food intolerances are due to a digestive problem triggered by a food.

So, which is it?
The terms food allergy and food intolerance can be confusing. Food allergy reactions have more to do with the immune system and may happen quickly—within minutes or hours after eating—and can include symptoms such as hives, pale skin, vomiting, diarrhea and breathing problems. Reactions can happen even when only a very small amount of food is eaten, touched or even inhaled.

Food intolerances are reactions to foods inside the digestive system (and don’t involve the immune system). Lactose (a sugar found in milk) intolerance is an example of a food intolerance in adults. Usually, small amounts of the problem food can be eaten before symptoms appear. Some symptoms might be gas, stomachaches, bloating and diarrhea.

The only way to know what your baby is experiencing is to talk with her doctor and discuss your concerns.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in milk, and lactose intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances in adults. However, lactose intolerance is very uncommon in babies and children under the age of five years. 
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