A lot of moms new the the food allergy game wonder what the difference between an intolerance and an allergy is. It’s a common topic. One will get you fast, and one will get you slow. You’ll see what I mean.
Food intolerance is a broad term that means the body reacts to a food. A food allergy, in the medical sense, means that the food provokes an immue reaction, specifically, the body creates antibodies called immunoglobulin E. Thus, the commonly thought off food allergies that cause hives or anaphylaxis are also known as IgE reactions and are one type of food intolerance. Some medical doctors pay attention to IgG reactions, and some do not think they are “clinically significant”– to quote Ada’s allergist.
When you end up with a child with food ‘intolerances’ rather than testable IgE reactions, you get the sense that ‘clinically significant’ means life-threatening, while symptoms such as my older daughter gets to a food like itchy skin, constipation and emotional fragility are not. Add to that the vast amounts of kids that react to foods with ADD/ADHD like symptoms, late potty-training, speech delays, keratosis pilaris (skin bumps) and etc. Those parts just aren’t well studied or known about yet and would fall under food intolerance or food sensitivity (a really broad term).
So to review and get back on topic, a food allergy is a type of food intolerance, and a food intolerance means that a food causes an undesirable, tangible symptom. You can also get into delayed reactions or immediate reactions, another rea some doctors give more credence to or not. Some say that IgE are imediate reactions and IgG are delayed. Well known intolerances like lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance might fall under delayed for many people. Immediate reactions are obviously the throat-closing anaphylactic ones.
What would some people talk about rashes and hives and so many other symptoms while your child just has gut issues, or vice versa?
Just because people are different. I react to eggs. My daughter’s allergist was nice enough to not say my reaction was not ‘clinically significant’, but he did say it’s not an allergy, it’s just an adverse effect from a food. And that I do agree with. I get terrible gut cramps. And sugar gives me headaches. I’m not allergic to them.
I used to say I was. Just as a close friend often tells people she is allergic to peas, and I people often say they are allergic to gluten. I also used to always say I was allergic to perfume. Because I’ve had to study this stuff so much in my drive to understand what is happening in the bodies of the people I love, I now say “I react to perfumes” or “I am sensitive to chemicals”.
Using the words “reacts to” is one way to deflect all those well meaning friends, families and acquaintances that think they know how your child should or does respond to a food. If you say it’s an allergy, the immediate response is “Oh he’ll grow out of it.” This may or may not be true, and while people are trying to be supportive, I find it so annoying. But I don’t show that because I know they typically mean well. If you say it’s an intolerance, than people tend to think it’s less serious and that “a little” is okay. Also annoying.
And very untrue. You could say that, in general, the big difference is that allergies can kill swiftly while an intolerance can kill you slowly. Indeed, celiac disease and other gluten intolerance are known to be associated with cancers, IBS, type 2 diabetes– all kinds of “kill you slowly” debacles.
This is why I sometimes stick to saying “She reacts to gluten and dairy”. Or I just say “She can’t have gluten”, but reacts really explains the best. Because that seems to stop the conversation in which people will tell you everything they *think* they know about allergies. And it’s hard to argue with. I say she reacts to it, few people will challenge that. Allergy, intolerance, sensitivity. It’s semantics often. I enjoy really knowing the differences.