Food Allergies vs Intolerances

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to a component of a food, usually a protein. This causes a range of symptoms, including skin irritations, facial tissue swelling, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiousness/distress, decreased blood pressure, fainting, trouble breathing, and shock. These symptoms can be mild to severe, and can lead to loss of consciousness or death if not appropriately treated. In this article we will dispel several common myths about food allergies.


Myth: Food allergies are rare

Truth: Food allergies (as opposed to the more prevalent food sensitivities/intolerances) are increasingly common, affecting 5-6% of young children and 3-4% of adults in Canada.1


Myth: I can’t be allergic to that

Truth: Some people think that if they make it through childhood without developing any food allergies then they are out of the woods. However, this isn’t true; you can develop a food allergy at any age. In fact, allergies to food develop through a combination of genetic susceptibility and a high amount of exposure to the food, so if you consume large amounts of foods that you are susceptible to in adult life you could develop an allergy. For example, allergies to fish are very common in Japan, where it is a dietary staple.2


Myth: Once allergic, always allergic

Truth: Some children outgrow allergies. It’s more common in those with milk, soy, and egg allergies, but it can happen occasionally in children with peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish allergies as well.3


Myth: Stomach pain has nothing to do with allergies

Truth: Stomachaches can sometimes be the first sign that you have a food allergy. If you are concerned, get tested because your allergy symptoms could worsen, leading to a severe reaction later.2


Myth: If it causes problems, you are allergic

Truth: There are many reasons that foods can cause you symptoms, including sensitivities, intolerances, or consuming or touching something that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or other toxins. Visit your doctor if you are concerned about recurrent symptoms.2


Myth: It’s all about the peanuts

Truth: While peanut allergies are common, affecting 2% of Canadian children, Health Canada lists tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood, soy, wheat, and sulphites as other common triggers.1


Myth: Consuming small amounts of the trigger food can eliminate the allergy

Truth: This is based on the idea that you can train your immune system to recognize the trigger as safe by exposing it to small amounts of the food. In specific situations there is some merit to this technique, but you should never do this without a physician recommending and monitoring the process, as it can be very dangerous if you have a severe reaction.2


Myth: You only have to worry about food and drinks

Truth: The ingredients you are allergic to can turn up in unexpected places and cause a reaction if you are exposed. For example, people with peanut allergies need to be careful with medications, vitamins, cosmetics, sunscreens, mousetraps, pet food, craft materials, and even stuffing in toys, as these can all contain peanuts. This is true for most food allergies, so make sure to be aware of possible non-food sources.4


Myth: Food allergies cause ADHD

Truth: Some people believe that food allergies could be causing their or their child’s attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although it is possible for food to affect symptoms of ADHD, and many other diseases, having a food allergy cannot cause ADHD.2


Myth: Epinephrine is dangerous

Truth: Epinephrine (adrenaline) is a life-saving hormone administered as a drug by injection. If you are having a severe reaction to a food allergy, it can mean the difference between life and death. When faced with a life-threatening allergy exposure, do not be afraid to use this medication.2


Want to learn more about food allergy and intolerance?

We have several related articles that may be helpful:

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 192 – 2014
Image Credits: ©, ©
1. Health Canada. Food Allergies and Intolerances. Available at: Accessed 2014-12-16.
2. Allergy Watch. Common Food Allergy Myths. Available at: Accessed 2014-12-16.
3. Anaphylaxis Canada. Key Facts. Available at: Accessed 2014-12-16.
4. Health Canada. Peanuts – One of the ten priority food allergens. Available at: Accessed 2014-12-16.