Food Allergies vs Food Intolerance – What is the Difference?
August 18, 2018

Starting the progression to solids can be stressful for any parent, but when potential reaction to foods is added to the equation, this process becomes even more daunting.

There are two main types of reaction that occur: intolerance and allergy. While both can trigger symptoms when the food in question is eaten, they vary quite a bit in terms of severity, onset and risk to your baby’s health.

Understanding the difference is essential in order to be able to notice the signs of either one when foods are introduced.

How to Spot Food Allergies

A true food allergy often results in an immediate reaction that can be severe. Typically, signs of a bad reaction will be seen even when a tiny amount of the food in question is ingested. Food allergies can cause a major reaction that affects many organs. As such, it is best to seek medical attention immediately if any of the following symptoms appear after introducing a certain food:

  • Sudden diarrhoea and/or vomiting
  • Sudden skin rashes or hives
  • Cough or wheeze
  • Irritability or gassiness after meal
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, tongue or eyelids
  • Closure or tightening of the throat

Identifying Food Intolerance

Food intolerance on the other hand is typically a slower reaction that mostly results in digestive problems or occasionally skin rashes. The symptoms are usually less serious, and will often fade quickly after they appear. Sometimes, the symptoms will return only when the food in question is eaten again. Citrus fruits or strawberries for example can cause mild skin rashes or small bumps on the roof of the mouth when consumed, or lactose in milk may cause tummy cramps.

Signs of food intolerance include the following:

  • Skin rashes
  • Cramping, constipation and diarrhoea
  • Discomfort or irritability after meal

When should allergenic foods be introduced?

It is recommended to introduce allergenic foods to your baby before 12 months of age since leaving it until they are older has been shown to increase the chances of them developing an allergy.

Some of the allergenic foods are ok to introduce already at 6 months, others are better left for an introduction at a slightly later age, since they are harder to digest during the first few months of feeding, which can result in sensitivities.

Foods to delay feeding include the following:

    • Shellfish (9 - 12 months)
    • Egg whites (12 months)
    • Wheat (8-9 months)
    • Raw strawberries, raspberries and blackberries (6 - 8 months)
    • Peanut butter (6-8 months)
    • Whole milk (12 months)
    • Citrus fruits (12 months)
    • Honey (12 months)
    • Nuts (5 years) as they pose a choking hazard
    • Grapes (4 years) as they pose a choking hazard

Reduce any high risk of food allergy

Try introducing new allergy foods during daytime feeds. That way, if your baby does have a reaction, they will be easier to watch and respond to if required.

If your child is at high risk of food allergies (because of a family history or an existing food allergy or eczema), always speak to your paediatrician first about introducing any allergenic foods. They might recommend doing allergy testing before introducing these foods, alternatively feeding your child these foods at the doctor’s office in case of an allergic reaction.

Make a list of responses and reactions.

Finally, making a list of responses and reactions to all foods that are introduced will also make it easier to notice any warning signs early on. This way, you will also be able to see which foods are well received too.