What about food allergy and intolerance? Are they the same thing? And what do I do if I think I have an allergy?

It’s confusing isn’t it! But there is a difference between food allergy and food intolerance.
You can have a food allergy if your immune system over-reacts to a particular protein in common foods such as peanuts, nuts, eggs, milk, crustaceans, sesame and fish. Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually come on quickly and may include breathing difficulty, vomiting, swelling and collapse.

A food intolerance is different in onset and severity. You may experience unpleasant symptoms, such as upset stomach, rash, headache, or other discomfort. However, they do not involve the immune system and usually take a few hours to appear. Examples include lactose intolerance (when you cannot digest milk properly) or migraine brought on by red wine.

Interestingly, Coeliac disease is not an allergy or intolerance to gluten. It is an autoimmune disease where your immune system produces antibodies that attack the lining of the gut. This means you cannot absorb food properly, resulting in malnutrition and symptoms that range from pain and diarrhoea to fatigue and nerve damage.

Just to give you an idea of rate of food allergies and intolerances ……..In Ireland it is estimated that 3% of the population have a food allergy, 1% has coeliac disease and 5% of adults have lactose intolerance*. Your GP may refer you to a specialist if they’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms and further tests are needed.

The important thing to know is this food sensitivities are complex and you need to involve a qualified specialist, rather than self-diagnose yourself. Restricting certain foods un-necessarily can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
For further information see IFAN.ie, the Irish Food Allergy Network.


*The socio-economic cost of food hypersensitivity on the island of Ireland, May 2022 -https://www.safefood.net/getattachment/69d04d2f-314d-44a6-9983-be3ea09f9acc/safefood-2022-Economic-Cost-Hypersensitivity.pdf?lang=en-IE Accessed October 2022


IE-CH-1021 Date of Preparation October 2022