Milk Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance

What is a milk allergy?

A milk allergy is one of the most common allergies found in children and infants. Upon consumption of milk, the immune system recognizes the substance as a foreign invader and an allergic response is triggered. In mild cases, an allergic reaction can cause itching, hives, swelling, etc., however, in severe cases it can lead to anaphylaxis which results in wheezing, trouble breathing and loss of consciousness. A person with a severe milk allergy should always carry an EpiPen to reverse the effects of an allergic reaction if cow’s milk/milk products have been accidently consumed. About 80% of children and infants outgrow milk allergies so it is far less common in adults.

What is lactose intolerance?

The main difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergies is that lactose intolerances are not related to the immune system. Lactose intolerance is not a life threatening condition and will not cause anaphylaxis shock. People with lactose intolerance have a deficit of the enzyme lactase which is used to break down lactose found in milk products. Since lactose cannot be metabolized it builds up in the digestive system and leads to abdominal gas, diarrhea, nausea and bloating. These symptoms typically occur within 30 minutes- two hours following lactose consumption.

If I am lactose intolerance do I have to give up milk products completely?

No-you’re in luck! Most people suffering from lactose intolerance do not have to give up milk products completely. In small amounts and combined with non-dairy containing foods, many people will avoid the uncomfortable side effects associated with lactose intolerance. Research has shown that those most adults can consume about 12 g of lactose without having any major symptoms. This equates to approximately one cup of milk.

Who is most affected by lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is least common among Americans of European descent. Most European cultures have utilized milk in their diet for hundreds of years that people have built up a tolerance to the product. However, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics originate from cultures where milk is not as commonly used in foods, therefore lactose intolerance is much more prevalent.

Besides milk, what common foods contain lactose?

  • Baked goods
  • Potato chips and processed snacks
  • Luncheon meat, hot dogs and sausages
  • Salad dressings
  • Chocolate
  • Protein bars
  • Margarine

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Resources:

Lactose Intolerance Topic Overview

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Milk and Dairy Allergies

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