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Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance

I have little kids and one of them breaks out in hives whenever she eats strawberries. Or I should say, when she used to eat strawberries because the hives just didn't seem like a normal side effect of eating fruit. Are those hives a sign of a food allergy or just a symptom of a food intolerance?

Lucky for me, the Mayo Clinic just answered my question. First off only about 2 percent of American adults and 6 percent of American children have food allergies. Many of us do have adverse reactions to certain foods, but those reactions are only considered allergic reactions if the immune system is involved.


With a food allergy, the immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food or a component of a food as a harmful substance and fights that food culprit by releasing antibodies. The antibodies release histamines and other chemicals into your bloodstream to fight the good fight against this food "enemy". Signs of a food allergy may include:

  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat
  • Wheezing or breathing difficulties
  • Dizziness or fainting

Lactose intolerance is one example of a food intolerance. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme lactase needed to digest milk sugar (lactose) in milk and other dairy products. This inability to break down lactose during digestion may cause diarrhea, gas, bloating and abdominal pain, but doesn't set off the immune system response.

It is important to know the difference, because with an allergy a small amount of the food can trigger a serious allergic reaction. With an intolerance, the body can usually handle a small amount of the food without serious consequences.

Hopefully my little one will "grow out" of her strawberry allergy. Until then, we are sticking to blackberries and raspberries.

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