Most of us have been sick at some time, or even have a food allergy or intolerance (e.g. celiacs).
But is one the same as the other? What do you think are the differences between allergy, cold and intolerance? Do you think their symptoms are similar or do they differ?
In this article we will learn about the 7 differences between allergy, cold and food intolerance.. First we will explain what each of these concepts consists of and then we will analyze their most important differences.
Definitions: allergy, cold and intolerance
Before knowing the differences between allergy, cold and intolerance, let’s see what each of these diseases or alterations consists of below.
The human body defends itself against possible harmful and external agents by means of different protective barriers and defense mechanisms. Mainly, acts through the immune system and through the synthesis of antibodies..
The agents that trigger antibodies are called antigens. However, this natural defense system of the body can fail, when it not only responds to really harmful agents, but also to non-harmful agents (e.g. cat hair). This is when allergy appears.
Thus, allergy is a disproportionate response of the immune system to external agents (or substances) considered non-hazardous; that is, it is a defense mechanism that is excessive and ineffective, as it ends up causing various symptoms, such as itchy eyes, sneezing, mucus, tearing, etc.
The agents that cause allergies are allergens, and there are many of them: cat or dog hair, plants, dust (mites), certain foods (food allergies), flowers, pollen, etc. One can be allergic to one thing or to several things..
Thus, allergy involves a series of respiratory, nervous and/or eruptive alterations. The body reacts with extreme sensitivity to substances that are not actually harmful, and to which it has already been exposed. In people without allergy, these substances do not cause such symptoms and alterations.
A cold is a very common temporary illness that produces symptoms such as: mucus, sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, headache, cough.It produces symptoms such as: mucus, sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, headache, cough… A cold rarely causes fever, although it may do so (very low fever). In addition, it also causes a general feeling of malaise and tiredness.
It is usually caused by a virus that enters the mouth, ears or nose. There are many types of viruses that cause colds. The most common cold is the “common cold”, which lasts between 5 and 10 days.
Food intolerance occurs when the body reacts badly to the ingestion of a food.. The main symptom that it usually causes is an intense discomfort, normally in the stomach, although other symptoms may appear (such as dermatological symptoms: acne, eczema, itching, etc.).
Some typical intolerances (or at least the most frequent ones) are lactose intolerance (a component of milk) and gluten intolerance (also called celiac disease). However, there are many more. Each person is affected in one way or another, although the symptoms are usually similar.
Differences between allergy, cold and intolerance
Now that we have seen a summary of what each of these concepts consists of, let’s list the differences between allergy, cold and intolerance..
Severity of symptoms
Food allergies and food intolerances usually cause symptoms of discomfort in the person; but in addition, food allergies can also cause reactions, food allergies can cause more severe reactions in the body (unlike food intolerances).
That is, although the person may have presented mild symptoms with a food allergy, it is likely that on subsequent occasions he/she will present more serious (even life-threatening) reactions. On the other hand, in the case of colds, although they can cause a lot of discomfort and tiredness, they are not usually serious.
2. Appearance of symptoms
Continuing with the differences between allergy, cold and intolerance, we find the following: while allergy symptoms usually appear instantly, or immediately after the person has been in contact with the antigen (or has ingested the food), food intolerance symptoms may appear immediately after the person has been in contact with the antigen (or has ingested the food), the symptoms of food intolerance may appear a little later..
The cause of the cold is usually a virus.. It is usually a specific virus, the rhinovirus, that causes the common cold. We are more likely to catch colds when we are cold. The virus enters through the mouth, eyes or nose. In contrast, the cause of an allergy is an antigen or allergen, and the cause of a food intolerance is the body’s inability to process or defer some compound in food.
Although allergy, cold and intolerance may share some symptoms, the truth is that they are quite distinctIn the case of allergy, the typical symptoms are nasal congestion, tearing, sneezing and mucus (in food allergies, other more severe symptoms may also appear).
In colds, the symptoms are similar to those that appear with allergies, but there is also a generalized malaise and a feeling of excessive tiredness.
Finally, in the case of intolerance, the symptoms are more gastrointestinal, producing an upset stomach, as well as gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, reflux, etc. In the latter case, dermatological disorders or symptoms also appear, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, urticaria, itching…
Allergies usually last a lifetime (although their symptoms may disappear or diminish with time), as do food intolerances. However, in the case of colds, these are temporary (their symptoms last between 3 and 10 days).
6. Degree of interference with life
While it is possible to live a completely normal life with a food intolerance (avoiding ingesting the food to which you are intolerant), the same is not true for a cold and an allergy.
In the case of a food allergy, the same occurs as in the case of intolerance (although it is necessary to be more vigilant), but in the case of a cold, even if it lasts only a short time, the person is usually limited in carrying out his daily life, since he is ill and feels discomfort.
7. Triggers (quantity/type)
Another difference between allergy, cold and intolerance is that in the case of food allergy, a minimal amount of the food to which the person is allergic is sufficient to trigger symptoms; in the case of food intolerance, however, people can usually eat small amounts of the food to which they are intolerant, without this causing any symptoms.
In the case of a cold, it is not so much the “quantity” of the virus that infects us, but the type of virus that determines the appearance and severity of the symptoms.
- We recommend reading: “The 10 differences between flu and cold”.