What is a Food Intolerance Allergy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The term "food intolerance allergy" may be confusing because it describes two different and very separate ways humans may interact with foods. A food intolerance may be manifested by stomach upset and other forms of illness to foods or food additives they cannot properly digest. This is often confused with food allergies, which are rare and frequently extreme inflammatory reactions to small elements like proteins or chemicals in foods. People who think they have food intolerance may mix this up with having food allergies, and thus the term food intolerance allergy is used to mean one or the other.

Wheat contains gluten, which some people cannot digest.
Wheat contains gluten, which some people cannot digest.

True food allergies cause very strong reactions to a particular food. Peanuts may create histamine reactions that in some people develop to the point where a person has hives, cannot breathe, and begins to experience anaphylactic shock. Other offending foods that may create real allergic reactions include shellfish and occasionally eggs. It is very important that people know if they have true food allergies and that they use care when dining out so they don’t come into contact with known allergens. Wearing an emergency bracelet and carrying medications like an Epi-pen could be valuable, in case a chance contact with an allergy causing food occurs.

Food allergies may manifest as hives.
Food allergies may manifest as hives.

There are many other foods that can make people ill, but one of the principal differences is that the body is not tolerating the food, instead of having an allergic reaction to it. While people may develop extreme stomach upset or other feelings of illness from certain foods, they really aren’t having an allergic reaction to it. Many people express that they have a food intolerance allergy to products like milk, when what they really have is a lack of ability to digest milk because of low levels of the enzyme lactase.

Some intolerance and allergies, such as a gluten allergy, can cause dermatitis herpetiformis.
Some intolerance and allergies, such as a gluten allergy, can cause dermatitis herpetiformis.

Another common food that is said to develop a food intolerance allergy is gluten, which is present in most wheat products. People with severe gluten intolerance are said to have a condition called celiac disease. This illness can result in significant discomfort and especially may affect the bowels, mimicking conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. As long as wheat continues to be consumed, symptoms may persist and worsen, or people may notice them most after consumption of greater gluten amounts.

Many people with food allergies carry an Epi-pen for emergencies.
Many people with food allergies carry an Epi-pen for emergencies.

With both milk and gluten, what is missing is the allergy component or the rapid histamine and inflammatory action that can cause fatal illness. Very few people have a true allergy to either of these products. Consuming them can still lead to severe intestinal discomfort.

People trying to sort out the difference and determine what a food intolerance allergy is are encouraged to seek advice from their physicians. Questions to ask about a bad reaction to food in the past include whether this means expecting such a reaction in the future, and of what precise nature. Those with true allergies should especially get guidance, but people with serious illnesses like gluten intolerance need medical advice, too.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    • Wheat contains gluten, which some people cannot digest.
      Wheat contains gluten, which some people cannot digest.
    • Food allergies may manifest as hives.
      Food allergies may manifest as hives.
    • Some intolerance and allergies, such as a gluten allergy, can cause dermatitis herpetiformis.
      Some intolerance and allergies, such as a gluten allergy, can cause dermatitis herpetiformis.
    • Many people with food allergies carry an Epi-pen for emergencies.
      Many people with food allergies carry an Epi-pen for emergencies.