Health & Safety

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance

Food Allergy or Intolerance?

Many people think they are allergic to a food when in fact they are intolerant. Unlike food allergies, intolerances do not involve the body’s immune system. Slower in onset and not life threatening, food intolerance symptoms include headaches, bloating, wind, nausea, mouth ulcers or hives.
Symptoms that occur several hours after a food is eaten are more often as a result of an intolerance or enzyme deficiency rather than a food allergy.
A food allergy is not:

  • The inability to digest a food
  • An aversion to a food (disliking a food)
  • Food poisoning
  • A reaction to a food additive

Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a food allergic reaction may occur almost immediately after eating or most often within 20 minutes to 2 hours after eating. Rapid onset and development of potentially life threatening symptoms are characteristic markers of anaphylaxis.

Allergic symptoms may initially appear mild or moderate but can progress very quickly. The most dangerous allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) involve the respiratory system (breathing) and/or cardiovascular system (heart and blood pressure).

If you suspect a food has caused a reaction, avoid that food, talk with your doctor and have it investigated. If you know you have a food allergy, then always avoid that specific food trigger.

If you, your child or someone you care for has a reaction to any food, seek medical advice. If you are worried about a serious reaction, call an ambulance or go directly to hospital.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening.  It must be treated as a medical emergency, requiring immediate treatment and urgent medical attention.

Anaphylaxis is a generalised allergic reaction, which often involves more than one body system (e.g. skin, respiratory, gastro-intestinal, cardiovascular). A severe allergic reaction usually occurs within 20 minutes of exposure to the trigger and can rapidly become life threatening.

A person who is suspected of having a food allergy should obtain a referral to see an allergy specialist for correct diagnosis, advice on preventative management and emergency treatment. Those diagnosed with severe food or insect allergy must carry emergency medication as prescribed as well as an Action Plan for Anaphylaxis signed by their doctor. Food allergic children who have a history of eczema and/or asthma are at higher risk of severe allergic reactions.

Administration of adrenaline is first line treatment of anaphylaxis.

Management & Treatment
Anaphylaxis is a preventable and treatable event. Knowing the triggers is the first step in prevention.
Children and caregivers need to be educated on how to avoid food allergens and/or other triggers.

However, because accidental exposure is a reality, children and caregivers need to be able to recognise symptoms of an anaphylaxis and be prepared to administer adrenaline according to the individual’s Action Plan for Anaphylaxis.
Research shows that fatalities more often occur away from home and are associated with either not using or a delay in the use of adrenaline.

In Australia, adrenaline can be purchased on the PBS in the form of autoinjectors known as the EpiPen®.

More information on prescription is available through ascia

The adrenaline autoinjectors are intramuscular injections that contain a single, pre-measured dose of adrenaline that is given for the emergency treatment of anaphylactic reactions. The devices are for use by lay people and is available in two doses, Epipen® or EpiPen® Jr.
Please consult your doctor for more information on allergic reactions, accurate diagnosis and management strategies.

Visit www.allergy or call 1300 728 000

Information reproduced with the permission of

Mild to moderate allergic reaction Severe allergic reaction- ANAPHYLAXIS
Hives welts or body redness Difficult and/or noisy breathing
Swelling of the face / lips / eyes Swelling of the tongue
Vomiting / abdominal pain (these are signs of a severe allergic reaction/anaphylaxis in someone with severe insect allergy) Swelling or tightness in the throat
Tingling of the mouth Difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
Wheeze or persistent cough
Persistent dizziness or collapse in its place
Pale and floppy (in young children)

Do you live with an allergy? (PDF)


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