Dairy Allergies And Intolerance

Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.

Should you drink your milk? Cow's milk is a common source of food allergy, especially among children. An adverse reaction to a food can be the result of an allergy or an intolerance.

If it's an allergy, the reaction will involve the immune system. Symptoms of a milk allergy may include: rash, hives, diarrhea, cough, or runny nose. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology discusses food allergy diagnosis and treatment. It is important to consult your health care professional for a proper evaluation. A diagnosis usually involves one or more of the following:

  • a study of your symptoms and diet.
  • a skin and/or blood test to determine the presence of IgE antibodies (immune system response to an allergen).
  • an elimination diet - the suspected food is completely eliminated from your diet for a short period of time then reintroduced.

The primary treatment for a dairy allergy is avoidance. Depending on the severity of your allergy, this could mean either totally eliminating dairy foods from your diet, or eating them occasionally. A rotation diet, which involves alternating the foods that you eat, is sometimes recommended.

A food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food that does not involve the immune system. An example is lactose intolerance, which is when the digestive system is unable to break down the lactose (milk sugar) in dairy products due to a lactase enzyme deficiency. This can be caused by several things, but in adults, it usually comes about gradually. Symptoms may include: gas, diarrhea, and bloating. Check with your physician - there are several tests used for diagnosis, such as: the blood glucose test; the hydrogen breath test; and the stool acidity test. Treatment involves avoidance and/or the use of lactase enzymes and lactose-reduced dairy products.

Additional Information

La Leche League International has an interesting articles about the occurrence of cow's milk and other food allergies.

Dr. Doris Rapp, the author of Is This Your Child?, has found that allergies and other intolerances can affect mood and behavior. In children, some of the symptoms are: temper tantrums, hyperactivity, bedwetting, moodiness, and irritability.

Many people substitute soy, rice, oat, or nut "milks" for dairy (provided they are not allergic to ingredients in the substitutes). These products are available in health food stores and supermarkets. There are several sites which feature food product information and milk-free recipes (and egg-free and wheat-free as well).

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Colleen Kaemmerer was a contributing editor to Suite101.com's Allergies site.

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