Allergy or Sensitivity

Food allergies and sensitivities are similar yet very different. Knowing the differences can help understand cautions and ultimately, healing.

Earlier this week, I went to lunch at this cute, trendy pizza place that has the most creative pizzas including gluten and dairy free. (For those of you who have been on a gluten or dairy free diet, you know this is a rare and cherished find!) When I placed my order, the gentleman behind the counter asked me “is it allergy or preference”. Allergy or Preference, in this case, indicated the need to change gloves for those participating in my pizza making. For most folks with an allergy, even residue on the gloves will trigger a reaction. This question was confusing to my lunch date- who thought allergy and sensitivity [preference] were the same. Yes – there are similarities, but the difference are big and not to be confused.

Allergy: A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system detects certain foods and treats it as harmful. The body begins to react, causing one or more symptoms impacting numerous organs of the body. Allergies can be life threatening.

Sensitivity:Also referred to as Intolerance or even Preference (in the pizza example), Sensitivity is a body’s inability to digest, break down or “pass” the food and is typically contained to the digestive track.

Symptoms or signs of allergies and sensitivities can and often times present themselves similarly. Nausea, stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting are examples of shared symptoms.

Allergic reactions will show on the skin and can carry some of these symptoms as well:

  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling of skin, including lips, throat & tong
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty Breathing

Sensitivities typically have the following:

  • Gas
  • Cramping or bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

I found this great, simple description to help decipher between the two on WebMD:


  • Comes on suddenly
  • Small amount of food can trigger
  • Happens every time you eat it
  • Can be life threatening


  • Usually comes on gradually
  • May only happen with large quantity consumed
  • May only happen when eating the food often

My boys experienced most of the above and these symptoms are found in lists for load of other ailments.  As a result, it was a while before I even considered food allergies as a problem. When I suspected a food to be the culprit for my family I began with:

  1. Keeping a food diary – Tracking everything that was ingested, both food and drink. How did they feel and behave… energetic, lethargic, nervous, etc.
  2. Eliminate – after only a couple days, it was easy to spot trends. In our case, dairy was a theme. So we chose to eliminate dairy for 2 weeks.
  3. Allergy tests by your doctor – In our case, there was more than one food allergy at work. Have blood test performed helped us to pin point exactly what should be removed and for how long. This was also needed for schools and childcare to honor our diet restrictions.

Regardless of “allergy or preference”, as the guy asked, both should be honored and taken seriously. If you suspect this for yourself, someone close to you or maybe you know someone recently diagnosed… All the symptoms listed, regardless of the category, create less than good living conditions. Changing gloves will reduce the chance of an allergic response, but caution should be taken for both.

If you suspect this for yourself, or someone close, the symptoms for both create less than ideal living conditions. In my family, these symptoms impacted school, work, ability to exercise or play and even social situations. Understanding the differences will help determine the level of safeguards (i.e. changing gloves while prepping food) – but diagnosis will lead to change, and ultimately a better you!

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