A food reaction involves any bodily reaction to food ingested. Food reactions are typically classified as food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerances. It is important to distinguish the difference between food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerances when working with our pediatric feeding clients.
The differences include immune system involvement, symptom onset, symptom duration, amount of food required to trigger a response, and the body organ(s) affected by the reaction.
Food Allergies involve the immune system. Food allergies are the least common but most dangerous because they can cause anaphylaxis. A food allergy reaction typically happens in one second to 1 hour after ingestion and can be triggered by one molecule of food. The reaction is typically limited to the airways, skin, and GI tract. Symptoms include anaphylaxis, hives, eczema, tingling/itching of mouth, wheezing, nasal congestion, and swelling of lips, face, throat, and tongue. Food allergies can typically be tested by skin-prick, oral challenge, or blood tests.
Food Sensitivities also involve the immune system but do not include anaphylaxis responses. Food sensitivities are the most debated food reaction. Symptoms normally start start 45 minutes to 3 days after consumption. The amount of food that triggers a reaction is often dosage dependent. Unlike allergies, food sensitivities can cause issues with any organ in the body. Symptoms can manifest as abdominal pain, anxiety, bloating, brain fog, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, heartburn, joint pain, nausea, rashes and many more. Food sensitivities can be diagnosed via elimination diets and blood tests.
Food Intolerances do not involve the body’s immune system. When the food is consumed, the person’s body does not properly digest the food and it begins to ferment inside the gut. Symptoms of an intolerance can be immediate or delayed as food makes its way through the digestive tract. The amount of food that triggers a reaction is often dosage dependent and typically only involves the digestive tract. Symptoms include but are not limited to abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea and/or diarrhea. Intolerances are diagnosed through hydrogen breath test, lactose tolerance test, and elimination diets.
If you have concerns that your child is experiencing food allergies, food intolerance, or food sensitivities, schedule a free screening with one of our feeding therapists to discuss next steps.