What’s the difference between food intolerances and food allergies?

Food intolerances

Food intolerances or non-allergic food hypersensitivity, are adverse reactions to foods and can have similar symptoms to food allergies e.g. wheezing, stomach upsets and skin rashes. However, food intolerances differ from food allergies in that they do not involve the immune system and do not show up on allergy testing.

Children with food intolerances may also be able to tolerate a small amount of the offending food, whereas children with food allergies will usually not be able to tolerate any amount of the offending food, unless it is part of the treatment process (e.g. oral immunotherapy).

“For now, total avoidance of the food your child is allergic to is the only proven treatment for food allergies,” says Jasly Koo, Dietitian, from the Nutrition and Dietetics Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, a member of the SingHealth group.  However, once the child has outgrown the food allergy, it is just as important to continue giving the previously offending food, to ensure that the child continues to tolerate the food. This is because failure to continue consuming the food may result in the child becoming allergic to the food again.

Food allergies

Food allergy is increasing throughout Asia and is reported to affect approximately 4% to 5% of Singaporean schoolchildren.

Common food allergens include:

  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • eggs
  • milk
  • wheat
  • fish and shellfish
  • soy

Less common food allergies include rice, sesame, lentils and bird’s nest.

Food allergies are mainly due to various food proteins, to which the child could have become sensitised to during pregnancy, or breastfeeding, or on first exposure. It is worth noting that a food allergy to shellfish can develop at any time in life, and a fish allergy may be specific to a particular variety of fish, with others being tolerated.

Read on for symptoms of food allergies.

Ref: N18