HomeFood allergy basicsRelated conditionsFood intolerances and other conditions

Food intolerances and other conditions

Many people confuse food intolerances with food allergy but they are not the same. Learn more about the differences.

Woman lying on sofa and holding hands on her stomach.
Quick Facts
  • Food intolerances involve the digestive system.
  • Food allergies involve the immune system.

Food intolerance or food allergy

Woman sitting on couch holding her stomach as she feels stomach pain

A food intolerance is the inability to digest or absorb certain foods. For example, someone with lactose intolerance does not have enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar (lactose) found in dairy products.

You may experience intestinal gas, painful abdominal cramping or diarrhea, as well as potentially serious long-term health consequences. While the symptoms of a food intolerance or sensitivity may cause extreme discomfort, they are confined to the gastrointestinal tract and are generally not life-threatening.

A food allergy is an IgE-mediated immune response to a protein in a food. Even eating a very small amount of the food or particles of the food can potentially trigger a life-threatening reaction.

People with food allergies are diagnosed by an allergist and prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector in case of a severe allergic reaction. Learn more about food allergy.

Other conditions