Food allergy and food intolerance

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Food Allergy and Food Intolerance: Are They the Same?

Last updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2018 | 3 min reading time

The difference between food allergy and food intolerance can be identified based on your body's response. Physical reactions to certain foods such as lactose are common, but most cases are caused by food intolerance rather than food allergy.

Food intolerance can trigger some reactions similar to food allergy, so people often confuse the two.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when a person's immune system mistakes an ingredient in food as a harmful invader and creates a defence system (antibodies) to fight it. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be life-threatening. The most common food allergies are fish, shellfish, nuts, eggs, peanuts, and milk.

What is food intolerance?

Food intolerance is caused by the absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest certain food. The symptoms of food intolerance are generally less serious and take longer to emerge, compared to food allergies. Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products, is the most common food intolerance.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms of an allergic reaction or intolerance, head to the Urgent Care Centre (UCC) immediately or call for an ambulance.

During a medical emergency in Singapore, you can also call +65 6473 2222 for an ambulance that will transport you to the nearest hospital or a hospital of your choice. Learn more about Parkway Emergency services.

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Food & nutrition Gut health