The Difference Between Milk Allergy and Milk Intolerance

Photo by: Flickr
Photo by: Flickr

People often confuse the conditions of milk allergy and milk intolerance, also known as lactose intolerance. However, they are completely unrelated conditions. Milk allergy is a condition in which the immune system has a negative reaction to the proteins in the milk. Simply stated, milk allergy is an allergic response. An allergic reaction to the protein found in cow’s milk is one of the most common food allergies in teens and adults. Milk allergy is actually fairly uncommon in infants. It affects only about two to three percent of infants. Children that have a milk allergy usually outgrow it by the time they are a year old.

Symptoms of milk allergy vary widely. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and gas. Difficulty breathing may occur with severe allergy. Infants may display irritability and cry excessively, particularly after feeding. Infants with milk allergy may spit up frequently. Coughing, sneezing, watery eyes and stuffy nose may also develop. Other symptoms such as skin rash or blood in the stool may be present. Parents of infants with milk allergy may notice that the child is not gaining weight. Milk allergy is more serious than milk intolerance. People that have a milk allergy should avoid dairy products. However, people with a milk allergy should be certain to eat other foods that are rich in calcium and Vitamin D.

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the enzyme necessary to break down the sugar found in milk. Intolerance also tends to develop in older children and adults. However, premature infants are more likely to develop lactose intolerance than full-term babies, because the lactase levels don’t increase until the third trimester of pregnancy. Since milk intolerance involves the digestive system, bloating and abdominal discomfort are common symptoms. Other symptoms include gas, irritability, diarrhea, and failure to gain weight. Lactose intolerance may be confused with other conditions such as milk allergy or irritable bowel syndrome. Lactose intolerance can be managed by making dietary changes. Some people that suffer from milk intolerance can still consume small amounts of milk and dairy products.

If you suspect that you or your child may suffer from milk allergy or lactose intolerance, consult your physician. You may need to eliminate dairy products from your diet. An infant or toddler may need to have their formula or milk changed to a soy based product or other substitute. Symptoms should subside once milk and other dairy products have been eliminated from the diet.