Rush Medical Center Home Page Information for healthcare Professionals Rush University

Bookmark This Page
Health Information Food Allergies and Intolerance

When Food Makes You Sick
The difference between food allergies and intolerance



Does milk give you migraines? Do eggs make you itch? The answer is yes for some people who develop uncomfortable and possibly life-threatening symptoms from consuming these foods. Eggs can cause allergic reactions and milk can cause intolerance symptoms such as headaches.

A food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body's immune system. The offending food can sometimes cause serious illness and death. Fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, such as walnuts, and eggs will most often trigger allergic reactions in adults. Children are typically affected by eggs, milk and peanuts.

However, most people actually suffer from food intolerance, which is often mistaken for a food allergy due to the similarities in symptoms. Food intolerance results from the body's reaction to enzymes or proteins in the food. It is rarely harmful but can cause unpleasant responses such as migraines or problems with the digestive system. An intolerance to lactose is the most common.

What's the Difference?

Symptoms for either usually begin within two hours of eating. Food allergies can cause a tingling in the mouth, hives, swelling of the eyelids, face, lips or tongue, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness. Nausea, stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. But these symptoms typically affect those with food intolerance, too. So what's the difference?

Food allergies can be triggered by even a small amount of the offending food, and it will occur every time the food is consumed. Food intolerances are usually dose related. People with intolerance issues may not have symptoms unless they eat a large quantity of the food or eat it regularly.

Consult your doctor if you or your child has had a reaction to any food or drink so that your doctor can determine if an allergy is the actual cause. The only proven treatment for a food allergy is to avoid the food and be ready to deal with any potential exposure to the allergen with antihistamines or epinephrine.

Adults may be able to tolerate small doses of foods that cause intolerance symptoms, but this can only be determined through trial and error.

To learn more about allergies and the symptoms and treatment of sinus disease, join our experts at Rush for this upcoming event:

Allergies, Asthma and Chronic Sinus Problems in Children and Adults
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009
Armour Academic Center
Rooms 976 and 994, 600 S. Paulina St.
For more information or to register, call (888) 352-RUSH (7874) or click here to register online.

More Information at Your Fingertips:


Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

If you enjoyed this article and are not already a subscriber, subscribe today to Discover Rush Online. You'll receive health information, breaking medical news and helpful tips for maintaining your health each month via e-mail.


Looking for More Health Information?

Visit Discover Rush's Web Resource page to find articles on health topics and recent health news from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. You will also find many helpful links to other areas of our site.

Looking for a Doctor?

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, is a leader in caring for people of all ages, from newborns through older adults.

Just phone (888) 352-RUSH or (888) 352-7874 for help finding the Rush doctor who's right for you.


Promotional Information

Discover Rush, 2005 - Winter
Past Issues
Food Allergies and Intolerance

Find a Doctor | Patient & Visitor Services | Health Information
Clinical Services | Events & Classes | Rush News Room | Clinical Trials
Research At Rush
Disclaimer | Privacy Statement | Site Map

© Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois