Eight major food items are responsible for about 90 percent of all food-related allergic reactions. Milk is one of those eight items, along with fish, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and wheat.
Milk allergies mostly affect children, but they can persist into adulthood. In some cases, they can even develop in adulthood for the first time. Milk allergy symptoms can include gastrointestinal problems (gas, vomiting, diarrhea), hay fever, and hives.
Lactose Intolerance or Milk Allergy?
Many people mistake milk allergy for lactose intolerance. Indeed, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. Like milk allergy, lactose intolerance can cause stomach problems—including flatulence, bloating, and cramping. With lactose intolerance, discomfort will usually occur shortly after eating or drinking milk-related products. Lactose intolerance will not lead to the skin problems or hay fever symptoms that result from a milk allergy.
The causes of lactose intolerance and milk allergy are dynamically different. Lactose intolerance occurs because the digestive system does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is responsible for processing the sugar in milk—which is known as lactose. If your body cannot digest lactose properly, you’ll end up with the stomach discomfort associated with lactose intolerance.
Allergies stem from a problem with the immune system. The immune system is hardwired to fight off intruders such as germs and bacteria. Allergies occur when the body mistakes something harmless—such as milk protein—for a dangerous intruder. The body then goes on the offense, attempting to fight off milk proteins by releasing chemicals into the body. The chemicals wreak havoc on the body, leading to uncomfortable allergy symptoms.
What Can be Done?
For those with lactose intolerance, there are a lot of lactose-free alternatives, including lactose-free milk, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt.
People with milk allergy can try to steer clear of dairy products. This can be tricky because milk-based ingredients are found in many foods, including some unsuspecting ones such as certain types of salad dressing, baked goods, margarine, and nougat. If you don’t want to constantly avoid milk products, you can consider sublingual immunotherapy for food allergy treatment.
Sublingual immunotherapy is similar to allergy shots except that allergen extracts are taken as under-the-tongue allergy drops instead of as injections, providing no-hassle milk allergy treatment. The allergy drops are safer than shots so they can be taken at home. The sublingual immunotherapy drops can desensitize patients to dozens of the most prevalent foods, including milk products.