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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.

Join The Conversation
pixelhaze pixelhaze 10 years
This one's interesting: I have a cousin who cant drink certain kinds of alcohol. His face goes red and his skin gets hot and it happens pretty much immediately, it's kinda weird to watch. The thing is he doesnt know when it will happen, some affect him and some dont. Since he basically never drinks he's never bothered to get tested. Still I find it funny because so far the consensus is he gets sick off of expensive, high quality stuff but can handle the really gross swill.
bibelot bibelot 10 years
I used to break out in hives after eating strawberries as a kid, but I "grew out" of it, sometime near the end of high school/beginning of college. Now I'm a strawberry-eating fool! ;-)
PrissyLilBadAss PrissyLilBadAss 10 years
Wow, I feel incredibly fortunate that I do not have any food allergies! leeluv, your kiwi allergy just gave me flash backs of Friends when Ross' tongue swells from his kiwi allergy!
leeluvfashion leeluvfashion 10 years
I drink soy milk since my system is lactose intolerance. I can have ice cream just in small doses. I love kiwi's however I every time I have one, my mouth tingles. :^( I can eat fresh tomatoes however I can't eat tomato soup because I get hives all over. Rotten allergies. So far these are my only problems.
Pinkgirl88 Pinkgirl88 10 years
I have a lot of intorrences -- my stomach is a mess.
rubialala rubialala 10 years
My son has a lactose intolerance, and I am allergic to seafood. He can have a tiny bit of dairy, like one piece of cheese or a couple bites of ice cream without it affecting him too much. Fortunately, there are an incredible array of soy/veggie products, i.e., veggie cheese, lactose free milk, and soy ice cream that he just loves!!!
kiddylnd kiddylnd 10 years
Thanks for this! I keep trying to explain my dairy allergy to people who confuse it with intolerance and suggest I just drink Lactaid instead of Soy milk. I'll have to print this out to show them what the difference really is.
brielleblonde brielleblonde 10 years
i used to be allergic to strawberries... or so i thought. i would break out in hives on my arms, but then i found out it might have been from the sun, since i would be going outside and being in the sun the same time as strawberry season.
Jivespeaker Jivespeaker 10 years
Wow Darkoblivion! That's crazy! That makes my lactose intolerance look mild. LOL. I just have to keep my ice cream intake minimal. Not a huge issue.
darkoblivion darkoblivion 10 years
Lemon gives me headaches that make migraines look pathetic. They also irritate my throat and esophagus. I've even passed out from stupid waiters only "removing" the lemon from my tea instead of getting a whole new glass. I'm down for hours and hours unable to move. Raspberries have about half the same effect.
emo_stacer emo_stacer 10 years
food allergies are super scary...i'm allergic to chilipeppers. the signs list here is really short...there are more. or that its life threating w/o an epi-pen and med.att.
Hope5 Hope5 10 years
Fruits sometimes make my mouth sore, but not all the time!
rachelbojangles rachelbojangles 10 years
shellfish makes my throat and tongue swell. I also have a slight reaction to certain kinds of mixed nuts
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