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5/9/22 blog post

do certain foods upset your child's stomach?

food allergy versus intolerance

Has your child ever eaten something and not felt great afterwards? Depending on the symptoms, this could be a sign of a food intolerance (also known as a sensitivity) or an allergy. And you might be wondering, what is the difference between a food allergy and intolerance? David Morris, MD, division chief of allergy and immunology at Dayton Children’s Hospital is here to help us identify the differences.

  • A food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance, can make someone feel ill with symptoms such as nausea, gas, cramping in the stomach, diarrhea, and/or headaches.
  • A food allergy, such as a peanut allergy, can also make someone feel ill but with more serious symptoms such as hives, vomiting, throat tightness, difficulty breathing, and more.

food intolerance broken down further

A food intolerance, means that our body can’t digest a certain food the right way. For instance, someone who is lactose intolerant has trouble digesting the type of sugar that is typically in milk and other dairy products. This does not mean that they are allergic to milk, it just means that they probably won’t feel good after eating something that contains milk.

If your child has an intolerance to a food, they will probably notice symptoms within two hours of eating or drinking. Everyone reacts differently and a food intolerance can start out of nowhere – even if they’ve never had trouble with a certain food before.

There are some at-home food sensitivity tests that you can buy over the counter that will measure the body’s response to foods that commonly cause an intolerance. Unfortunately, data has not consistently shown these tests as a valid way to evaluate triggers. I would recommend a food diary recording symptoms after consumption. 

food allergy broken down further

A food allergy is when the body’s immune system sees a type of food as an invader. This is what leads to an allergic reaction. According to KidsHealth, an allergic reaction is the immune systems response in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body. An allergic reaction can cause symptoms that can be life-threatening.

A person with a food allergy is always at risk for the next allergic reaction being a life-threatening one. Eating even a small amount of the food can lead to anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause many problems at the same time. People with a food allergy must always avoid the problem food and carry an emergency injectable epinephrine (also known as an epi-pen).

Some of the most common food allergies include:

  • Peanuts and other tree nuts
  • Seafood, such as shrimp
  • Fish
  • Milk (usually cow’s milk)
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Sesame

If you think your child may have a food allergy, talk to their pediatrician. You will probably be referred to an allergist (a doctor who specializes in allergies). The allergist may want to do a skin test. A skin test will see how the body reacts to a small amount of the food that you think may be causing the problem.

Unfortunately, there is currently no medication available to make food allergies go away. Sometimes food allergies can be outgrown, and others may last forever. The best treatment is to avoid the food that is causing the problem – this is for allergies and sensitivities!

If you have more questions about allergies or think your child may need to see an allergist, click here.

David Morris 2023
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David Morris, MD

division chief allergy / immunology
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