Food allergies are not the same as food sensitivities
In the media, the terms food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerances are often used interchangeably. However, this is not accurate. While food sensitivities and food intolerances can refer to the same condition, these two differ from food allergies in several key ways.
Food Allergies Are an Acute Event
When triggered, food allergies, sometimes called true food allergies - are an acute event. This means the obvious symptoms are short term, usually lasting for less than 48 hours and often less than six hours. On the other hand, the apparent symptoms caused by a food intolerance, can endure for a week or more.
Food Allergy Symptoms Are Generally Severe
True allergic reactions may result in hives, facial swelling, and even anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is an especially severe allergic response characterized by difficulty breathing, altered heart rate, and/or unconsciousness. It can be life-threatening and requires the administration of epinephrine and immediate medical attention.
Food Sensitivity Symptoms
Food sensitivity / intolerance symptoms are typically limited to the gastrointestinal system. They include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. While these symptoms may be quite distressing and painful, they are rarely life-threatening.
Triggers Vary Too
The triggers for food allergies and food sensitivities also differ. A true food allergy is almost always caused by one of more proteins in the allergen food. For example, a milk allergy could be triggered by the protein casein. For this reason, it is extremely rare to have a true allergy to protein-sparse foods, such as spinach or strawberries. Food sensitivities are not always mediated by proteins, it is possible to be sensitive to almost any food. Furthermore, food sensitivities are often not triggered by a food itself, but rather by an additive like a colouring, pesticide, coating, or artificial flavour. In the example above, a person who is not milk-allergic may still be sensitive to milk due to the lactose sugar, a chocolate flavouring, artificial whitening enhancers, or presence of bovine hormones.