Allergy Or Intolerance? How To Identify Food-Related Symptoms

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When people experience the same reaction whenever they eat certain foods, be it diarrhoea or an upset stomach, most would think that they have a food allergy. However, food intolerance is most often the actual reason. Understanding the difference between these two food-related conditions is vital as it allows you to be better prepared to handle how some foods affect your body.

With that said, how do you tell the two apart? The answer is simple: food allergies tend to cause more severe and often life-threatening conditions because it is an immune system response. In contrast, food intolerance generally results in isolated digestive issues that are frustrating and unpleasant at worst.

Causes and symptoms

Food allergies occur when your immune system mistakes an ingredient in food as a dangerous threat. There are around eight food types that account for most cases of food allergies, which are:

  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Walnuts, cashews, and other tree nuts
  • Wheat

Food allergies are not limited to children; they can also develop during adulthood. Thus, it is common for people to go their whole life enjoying a particular food only to have an adverse reaction to it out of the blue. After consuming food you are allergic to, your body’s immune response gets triggered immediately, and symptoms manifest anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours. A food allergy reaction can be fat and thus requires immediate treatment via an adrenaline or epinephrine injection. A common example of such a reaction would be a peanut or soy allergy, wherein ingesting even small amounts can cause a rapid and severe reaction called anaphylaxis, as well as other symptoms like difficulty swallowing, hives or rashes, breathing problems, swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips.

In contrast, food intolerance is a milder condition wherein certain foods ‘do not agree’ with you. For example, milk products give some people gas, so they avoid foods with dairy ingredients altogether. That said, what does food intolerance mean and what causes it?

Essentially, food intolerance is when your body cannot properly break down certain foods or ingredients. The most common type of food intolerance you may have already heard of is lactose intolerance, caused by an enzyme deficiency that prevents the body from properly breaking down the milk sugar lactose. Gastrointestinal symptoms of food intolerance generally kick in within a few hours but are only uncomfortable and inconvenient at worst rather than life-threatening. Symptoms of food intolerance typically include:

  • Upset stomach or stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Gas and bloating
  • Diarrhoea

Managing your body’s reaction to food

It can be tricky to determine the source of food-related symptoms. However, once you pinpoint the culprit(s) of your issues, preventing them in the future will be much easier. A few ways to prevent food allergies or food intolerance are:

  • Avoid the offending foods

Naturally, steering clear of foods or ingredients that bother you is the best way to keep most intolerances and allergies in check.

  • Try over-the-counter medications

Medication can help alleviate subtle cases of food intolerance in some cases. For example, over-the-counter options like Lactaid® work best for those with lactose intolerance and let those with the condition occasionally enjoy dairy foods like ice cream, milk, cheese and so on without experiencing negative side effects.

  • Keep an epinephrine auto-injector handy

If your health provider diagnoses you with a food allergy, always carry an epinephrine auto-injector, or EpiPen, with you at all times and make sure that both you and your loved ones know how to use it.


Getting sick from eating certain foods can range from mild or inconvenient symptoms to being in life-threatening situations. As such, it is vital to know the differences between food allergies and food intolerance and how to prevent and treat their symptoms.

If you have concerns about your food-related symptoms, get them checked out by a health provider today using the MYCLNQ app. MYCLNQ is a leading app for telemedicine in Singapore that makes access to the medical services you need, such as doctor consultations, private ambulance transport, and medical e-commerce, more convenient than ever. Feel free to reach out to us anytime for further details about the other medical services you can access through the app!

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