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Lactose intolerance or milk allergy? How to tell

Posted by CarePoint Health on Oct 22, 2015 11:00:00 AM

milk allergy and lactose intolerance symptomsMore than four percent of all Americans have some kind of food allergy, and thousands more have various types of food intolerances. But despite the prominence of these conditions, many people still confuse the two.

Dairy allergies, in particular, are confusing because many people have symptoms after they ingest milk that seem to mimic an allergic reaction. But it’s important to know the difference and to recognize that an allergy is a serious condition that could warrant medical attention.

About dairy allergies

People with a dairy allergy have an immune system response to certain milk proteins. Even tiny amounts of a milk product in allergic individuals will trigger a reaction such as hives or wheezing -- and can be life-threatening (known as anaphylaxis).

Allergic symptoms can include stomach upset and vomiting, but may also include hives, swelling, or rash. Severely allergic people will likely need to carry an epinephrine injection in case of a life-threatening reaction. Any amount of milk will trigger a reaction every single time they are exposed to dairy. If you or your child is allergic to milk, remember to read labels carefully to look for trace amounts of dairy in products you eat.

If you weren’t allergic to dairy as a child, it is very unlikely to have a dairy allergy as an adult. A true dairy allergy primarily affects children, and most outgrow it — more than 80 percent of kids will outgrow a dairy allergy by age 16.

Signs of lactose intolerance

With lactose intolerance, a person has a problem digesting lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy products. The symptoms can certainly be bothersome, but they’re not life-threatening.

Lactose intolerance symptoms are limited to the digestive system. Nausea, bloating, and diarrhea are common problems.

Lactose intolerance can develop anytime, so if you’re suddenly noticing digestive problems after consuming dairy, intolerance is a likely culprit. Some people develop lactose intolerance after an illness, but in others, the cause is unknown.

Some lactose-intolerant individuals can consume small amounts of milk without an issue. Lactose-reduced milk products or certain types of hard cheese and yogurt may be low in lactose and well tolerated. Because people can have varying degrees of intolerance, it may take some trial and error to determine how much dairy — or what types — you can eat without a problem.

Getting proper nutrients

Whether you have an allergy or an intolerance, be sure to talk with your physician about other ways to get needed calcium and vitamin D that is primarily found in dairy products. With some extra effort and planning, you can make sure you’re getting the necessary nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

CarePoint Health Primary Care

Your primary care physician can help you manage your healthcare, and answer any questions you have about your health. Your PCP will help you navigate your well visits and specialist care throughout your life, and will be your health care advocate. To find a skilled primary care physician at CarePoint Health, please contact us.

Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.

Topics: Nutrition, Health, Children's Health, Primary care, Allergies