Allergies and intolerances are both abnormal reactions to foods, which is why it’s easy to confuse them. Knowing what to look out for will make it easier to tell the difference.

Food allergies

A food allergy is the immune system mistaking a harmless food protein as a threat. The body reacts to the supposed threat and produces antibodies to attack the food protein, at the same time causing uncomfortable food allergy symptoms.

Food allergy symptoms:

  • Wheeziness
  • Itchy tongue, throat or eyes
  • Swollen lips or throat
  • Skin rash
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Unshakable cough

It is more likely your baby will have a food allergy if there is a family history of allergies, including asthma, hay-fever and eczema. In these cases, it’s best to speak to their doctor before weaning.

Common food allergens

There are certain foods that commonly cause an allergic reaction and these should be introduced to your baby one at a time. They include:

  • Milk
  • Gluten
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts and peanut butter
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Soya

If your baby has an allergic reaction, don’t panic, contact a healthcare professional as soon as something’s wrong. In most cases they won’t need medical attention right away. Going forward your healthcare provider can discuss how you can keep your baby on a healthy balanced diet while avoiding certain foods. It is also quite common for babies to grow out of their food allergies as they get older.

Severe food allergies

In rare instances a food allergy can affect the whole body. This is called anaphylaxis and needs immediate medical attention. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if not treated. It normally hits within minutes after consuming the food or drink but can also develop over a couple of hours.

The warning signs are:

  • Red skin
  • Hives
  • Swollen mouth or throat making it hard to swallow or speak
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Drop in blood pressure causing someone to faint
  • Unconsciousness

Normally anaphylaxis is treated with a dose of adrenaline that can be injected with something called an EpiPen. EpiPens are portable and easy to use so they are worth looking into if your child has a serious allergy.

Food intolerance

Food intolerance is a bad reaction to a food but unlike an allergy it doesn’t involve the immune system. Intolerances are not as harsh as allergies and there is no risk of anaphylaxis, but they can be tricky to diagnose.

Symptoms of a food intolerance include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Tummy pains
  • Bloating
  • Excessive wind

Food intolerances can take a few hours to appear which is why they are hard to identify. Try to remember what your child has recently eaten and talk to a healthcare professional.