Difference Between Food Allergy vs Food Sensitivity

Food Allergy vs. Food Sensitivity

Eating any food your heart desires is a privilege those with a food allergy or a food sensitivity do not get to enjoy. A bad reaction to a food can range anywhere from an upset stomach to hives to something much more dangerous. Before you casually dismiss a 'weird' reaction to food, know the signs and how to tell the difference between a food allergy vs food sensitivity. 

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is your body’s’ immune system recognizing something you have eaten is harmful and creating a defense – or antibodies - to combat it. An allergic reaction is when these antibodies are fighting the food protein. Common food allergies include shellfish, nuts, fish, eggs, peanuts and milk. Food allergies affect about 1% of adults and 7% of children with some having multiple allergies.

What is a Food Sensitivity? 

A food sensitivity or food intolerance is when your body’s digestive system responds negatively to something you have eaten. It is more of an irritation as your digestive system cannot properly break down or digest the food. Common food sensitivities or food intolerance are to lactose, casein and gluten.  Food sensitivities are very common and most people have reacted to something they have eaten at some point.

Difference Between Food Allergy and Food Sensitivity

A main difference between and allergy and a sensitivity is a food allergy may be triggered every time you ingest even the smallest amount of an allergen whereas a food sensitivity may only occur if a large portion of that food is consumed.  If you have a food allergy, you generally will need to avoid eating that food completely, but if you have only a sensitivity you may be able to enjoy small amounts without any digestive issues. 

Symptoms of Food Allergy

Itchy skin

Rash or Hives

Shortness of breath


Stomach pains

Swelling of airway

Chest pains

The most important and concerning symptom of a food allergy is an Anaphylactic Shock. This is a potentially fatal allergic reaction that can lead to a drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and system failure in the body. 

Symptoms of Food Sensitivity




Stomach pain


Gas, cramping


These symptoms, although uncomfortable , are not known to be life threatening and will usually pass is a short amount of time.

Can You Prevent a Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity?*

Most people discover a food sensitivity or food allergy by trial and error. Keeping a food diary, recording what you ate and any reaction, or eliminating an entire food group and re introducing foods one at a time to pinpoint the source of the reaction. Allergy tests conducted at a doctor’s office is a safe way to confirm any potential severe reactions to certain foods.


Currently there is no cure for a food allergy or sensitivity but there are steps you can take to prevent the symptoms of a food allergy or sensitivity.  Limiting or not consuming the food allergen at all will greatly reduce the reaction, reading food labels carefully and making sure restaurant servers, friends and family whose homes you may dine are aware of your food intolerances.


*Consult your family physician if you suspect any food allergies or food sensitivities, conduct allergy tests when you can to confirm allergens and monitor your reaction to new foods.

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