Food Allergy vs. Sensitivity: How Are They Different?

You’ve just enjoyed a meal or snack when bothersome symptoms strike you. When this scenario unfolds repeatedly, you might wonder if you’re allergic or sensitive to something you ate. And, you could well be right. 

Some children outgrow food allergies and sensitivities, but they linger on for others. That’s why up to 8% of kids under age 3 and 3% of adults have a food allergy. Food sensitivities are less severe but more common. 

Dr. Javier Sosa and our expert team at Woodlands Primary Healthcare, located in The Woodlands, Texas, can help determine if you’re dealing with a food sensitivity or allergy and recommend treatment when needed. Read on to learn about some of the differences we look for and ways we can help.

Food allergy versus sensitivity symptoms

When you have a food allergy, your body perceives a seemingly harmless food as toxic and reacts by sending a significant immune system response. When you have a food sensitivity, your immune system may react similarly but to a much milder degree. 

Given all of that, symptoms of a food allergy may include:

  • Abdominal pain or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Eczema, hives, or itching
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, and throat
  • Tingling or itching in your mouth
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

In the most severe cases, food allergies cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition marked by constricted airways, a drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, and/or loss of consciousness. 

A food sensitivity causes less intense yet still bothersome symptoms, such as:

  • Acne
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Joint pain
  • Rashes
  • Stomach pain

And while food allergy symptoms occur suddenly, food sensitivity symptoms often gradually develop and worsen over time.

Food allergy versus sensitivity culprits

Most food allergies are due to certain proteins. In kids, these proteins are most commonly found in cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. In adults, allergy-spurring proteins are usually found in shellfish, other fish, peanuts, or tree nuts. 

Common food sensitivities include gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, and various sugars, such as fructose and lactose. 

Food allergy versus sensitivity treatment

Treatment for food allergies and food sensitivities usually involves avoidance of the allergen. Once you have an allergic reaction, treatment may involve over-the-counter or prescription medication. A severe reaction may require a trip to the emergency room. 

If you suspect that you or a loved one has a food allergy or sensitivity, proper diagnosis and management are important. Our team can also guide you toward replacing nutritious allergens with alternate sources of those nutrients to keep you as healthy as possible.

To learn more about food allergies and sensitivities or to schedule a food sensitivity test, call Woodlands Primary Healthcare, located in The Woodlands, Texas, or request an appointment with Dr. Sosa on our website today. 

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