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What's the difference?

This page is an explanation of some of the reasons that people need to avoid certain foods. I hope it helps you to understand more about the conditions and what people who have to battle with food on a daily basis go through.

Food allergies

An allergy is a response by the immune system. Anything can cause an allergic response, from albumin to zoos.

Most of us know someone with hay-fever, asthma or eczema, those are allergic reactions!

You may have heard about people dying from a peanut allergy, it has been in the news many times.

You have probably heard people refer to coeliac disease as an allergy to gluten, this is incorrect and you can read more about this further down the page.

Symptoms range from a snuffly nose  and runny eyes, through hives, swollen mouth and airways to anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. These symptoms may happen between minutes and hours of an allergen being encountered. This is not an exhaustive list, as there are many symptoms.

The most frightening thing is that you don't know when an allergic reaction will become anaphylaxis. There is no such thing as a mild allergy. You won't know that you have an allergy until you react to something, and even then, it may not be clear as to what substance caused the reaction.

Food intolerances

Food intolerances have similar symptoms as food allergies, EXCEPT that they do not result in anaphylaxis.

Like food allergies, food intolerances must be taken seriously, because the long term effects can lead to the sufferer being very ill.

Whilst a food intolerance can take longer to manifest, the reaction is still very unpleasant for the sufferer.

Food intolerance will not have the immediate life threatening impact of anaphylaxis, because it is initiated by a different immune response.

Coeliac disease

Often incorrectly described as an allergy to gluten, coeliac disease is NOT an allergy.

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley, also in some oats due to growing and milling processes.

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune condition, whereby the immune system sees gluten as an invader, and destroys the lining of the intestines. This leads to malabsorption of nutrients, which can eventually lead to such conditions as gastro-intestinal problems, anaemia, infertility, osteoporosis, fatigue , skin rash, and even cancer. The only way to control Coeliac disease is to avoid all gluten.

Some people with Coeliac disease can tolerate low levels of gluten, and many items labelled as 'gluten free' still contain a level of less than 20 parts per million (ppm), which has been identified as the 'safe' level which is unlikely to cause problems. There is another classification of 'very low gluten', which is less than 100ppm, though this is not currently available in the UK.


EGID stands for Eosinophilic Gastro-Intestinal Disease (Disorder). This is a condition where the immune system perceives a food or environmental substance as a threat when, to most people, it would not cause a problem. White blood cells (eosinophils) are released to attack the 'invader' but actually build up in the digestive tract and cause damage there. This leads to inflammation and pain in any part of the digestive system. There may be symptoms such as heartburn, sore throat, stomach pain, difficulty swallowing, food impaction, (needing surgical removal), oesophageal spasms (which may be misconstrued as a heart attack), bloating, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhoea, malnutrition and everything associated with it. Often these symptoms are misinterpreted, or missed completely for many years, and the resulting damage may lead to painful procedures to stretch the oesophagus. In extreme cases, people with this condition may have to be tube fed. For those who can identify their triggers, it is necessary to avoid those foods for life. Identification of EGID triggers is made by following a strict elimination diet under the supervision of a hospital specialist dietitian, it is a very long and difficult process.  

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