image for food allergy article The term food allergy is often misapplied, leading many people to believe that they are allergic to certain foods. A more accurate term would be food intolerance for many of these people. Food allergy symptoms can be caused either by a true allergic reaction to food or by simple food intolerance to specific components of a food. Symptoms of adverse reactions to food range from an upset stomach to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Identification and avoidance of any foods that trigger a reaction is the only cure available for food allergy.

A food allergy refers to a specific allergic reaction that involves the immune system, is triggered by a particular food, and is reproducible. In other words, the same symptoms—for example, wheezing or rash—must occur each time the food is eaten. It can also be called a hypersensitivity reaction as the immune system is very sensitive to the food.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, is an adverse reaction to a food and does not involve the immune system. Food intolerance may be inconsistent; reactions to the suspected food may vary in severity with each exposure, or may not occur at all.