Food Allergy? Intolerance? Proper First Aid and Differences

Food Allergy? Intolerance? Proper First Aid and Differences

Mackenzie Thompson

by Mackenzie Thompson

Life Saver, AMC

posted on Apr 1, 2015, at 9:48 pm


DIETARY ALLERGIES AND INTOLERANCES are often confused with one another. While they both can result in an unpleasant or ill feeling, the symptoms and consequences of each differ. It’s crucial to understand how each is different, and how to respond accordingly, which could potentially include life-saving first aid.

various food allergy icons

Food allergies are a growing concern, and currently affect about 9 million Americans – mostly children. A food allergy is an immune system reaction to food and causes immediate symptoms, which include dizziness, swollen lips/throat, rashes, itchy eyes, itchy tongue, wheezing, runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction that occurs within minutes. Those who have a known food allergy should always carry an EpiPen®, which is an injection of adrenaline. An EpiPen® can also be carried in a first aid kit and and should only be administered in life-threatening emergencies.

According to, the eight foods listed below account for about 90 percent of reactions:

• Milk

• Eggs

• Wheat

• Fish

• Shellfish

• Soy

• Peanuts

• Tree nuts

Food intolerances are different from food allergies because they do not include the immune system. Intolerances generally cause more general symptoms of discomfort, such as bloating, runny nose, headaches, and upset stomach. They do not usually require first aid treatment, but there are some over-the-counter medications, which can help, such as lactose enzymes or ibuprofen.

Some of the most common food intolerances (source: include:

• Wheat and gluten

• Lactose (from animal milks, cheeses, yogurt, etc. and is due to a lack of lactose enzymes)

• Yeast

• Alcohol

• Histamine (in a variety of foods such as fermented drinks, tofu, vinegars and dried nuts and seeds)


If you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor for confirmation. Typically the symptoms can be avoided with the proper management.

When purchasing foods, be sure to cautiously read the ingredient list to check for hidden allergens or triggers. According to NSW Food Authority, these allergens are most likely to be displayed in brackets, in bold, or in a separate declaration on the ingredient list. Additionally, many processed foods are produced in the same factories as the other foods from a particular brand. Therefore, always be sure to look out for the “May contain” warnings. When in doubt, you can always call or email the company’s manufacturing number to talk to a manufacturer about the possible food allergens a product may contain.

If you decide to go out to eat at a restaurant, be sure to tell the server and chef about your allergies. Also, you can ask about the items on the menu and any cross contamination. Lastly, be sure to always keep your first aid kit handy in your home and car to be prepared for potential emergencies, which can happen anywhere and at anytime.

We want to know: Do you have a food allergy or intolerance? Comment below!

About Mackenzie

Mackenzie is a lover of world travel, photography, design, style and Chinese cooking. She is passionate about working towards a purpose, recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Media and Marketing, and is currently residing in Manhattan.

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