Allergy and intolerance – Find out the difference

It is easy to confuse allergies with intolerances. They both make us feel sick, lethargic, and downright miserable.


Sonia Chartier

17 December 2015

Allergy and intolerance - differences

Our bodies are incredibly sophisticated, equipped with tiny skilled armies that strategically mount an attack on invading pathogens. However, our armies occasionally become confused and mistake the “invader” as a protein or sugar molecule found in the food you just ate, for example. When this happens, the body decides which antibodies it should activate to defend ourselves.

In true allergic reactions, our bodies undergo what is known as an IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reaction. These reactions are immediate and may cause swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing.  Based on the immediate and severe symptoms we experience during a allergic reactions, it is often easier to determine their origin. Common causes of allergies include the following:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mould
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts and tree nuts
  • Eggs
  • Wheat

Conversely, the onset of an intolerance – which is also known as a sensitivity – is delayed, and may occur 4 to 28 hours after exposure.

During this type of reaction, the body has an inappropriate response to a protein or sugar molecule and undergoes an IgG-mediated immune reaction. Intolerances are more common than allergies, affecting up to 20 per cent of the population. Because intolerance symptoms are numerous and inconsistent, and can take place several hours following exposure, it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact trigger.

The list is endless when it comes to types of food intolerances. Lactose intolerance is perhaps the most popular, affecting up to 16% of Canadian adults. Common intolerances are also seen with the following foods:

  • Gluten
  • Sulfates and preservatives
  • Yeast and alcohol
  • Fructose, fructans, and polyols

Symptoms of a food intolerance may be vascular- or joint-related, and can present as migraines or joint pain. Food intolerances can also manifest as abdominal discomfort and include:

  • bloating,
  • flatulence
  • excessive burping, 
  • dull pain in the abdominal area, 
  • sudden loose stools or diarrhea
  • lethargy, and 
  • fatigue. 

When food intolerances become a chronic occurrence, such as in the case of patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or leaky gut, it is not uncommon to see food malabsorption as well as vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

Sometimes, listening to your body is all it takes to narrow down your list of offending allergens or foods. Avoiding triggers altogether is the best way to rid of symptoms; however, when exposure is an unfortunate reality, you may find that trying Allergy Relief  will reduce your sneezing, itchy nose, and burning eyes. 

For intolerances, elimination diets that remove the most common food culprits are helpful in ruling in and out offenders. In cases of ongoing food intolerances, it is imperative to work with your health care practitioner to ensure that your body can metabolize and receive its daily requirements for macro and micro nutrients.

Nelson M, Ogden J. “An exploration of food intolerance in the primary care setting: the general practitioner’s experience.” Soc Sci Med. 2008(67); 6: 1038–45.