Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy

Milk allergy is one of the “big eight” food allergies. “Big eight” foods account for about 90 percent of food allergy reactions. In addition to milk, they include, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.

milk allergy

Milk allergies are particularly prominent in children and can cause a litany of symptoms including gastrointestinal discomfort. Many adults develop an aversion to milk later in life. While it may be a bona fide milk allergy, it could also be lactose intolerance.

What’s the Difference

Milk allergy is an immune reaction to protein found in cow’s milk and other dairy products. Even though these proteins are harmless, the immune system misjudges them as dangerous invaders such as germs or bacteria. The immune system attacks with an allergic reaction, unleashing chemicals like histamine into the body than can lead to stomach problems, hives, hay fever and other allergy symptoms.

On the other hand, lactose intolerance is a digestive issue stemming from low levels of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is the enzyme produced in the small intestine that processes the sugar (lactose) in milk. Without lactase, you’ll often feel crampy and gassy shortly after eating or drinking milk products. You may also develop diarrhea. Lactose intolerance varies. Some people can digest small amounts of milk products without repercussions. Others can’t stomach any foods that contain lactose.

Treatment options

For lactose intolerance, some people may find relief through taking supplements such as enzymes. However, most people are simply limited to controlling the amount of lactose-based products that they eat. Fortunately, there are quite a few lactose-free food alternatives to help people steer clear of trigger foods while still eating a reasonably normal diet.

For those with milk allergies, a treatment known s sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) offers allergy sufferers another option besides avoiding ubiquitous milk products. SLIT works like allergy shots, desensitizing the body to allergens in the environment so that it can tolerate them without reactions. In the case of SLIT for milk, the body learns to tolerate milk proteins, but instead of relying on allergy shots to deliver antigen to the body, SLIT uses under-the-tongue allergy drops for allergy treatment. Click here to read more about milk allergy treatment for kids and adults.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.