Milk allergies can occur at any age. There is some debate about whether or not people generally outgrow milk allergies when they become adults, but studies show that about 2%-3% of children have milk allergies.
Milk Allergies vs. Intolerance
A milk allergy and a milk intolerance may sound synonymous, but they are different reactions to milk. The term “milk allergy” also encompasses a cow’s milk allergy, allergies to cow’s milk protein, and dairy allergies. All three terms refer to an IgE-mediated allergic response to milk proteins. Milk, milk protein, and dairy allergies can all range in severity from mild symptoms to a life-threatening allergic reaction. Allergy testing can help diagnose a true allergy.
Intolerance to dairy products is commonly referred to as “lactose intolerance”. It is not an immune system response to milk and milk products. Instead, it means that your body cannot digest milk sugar (lactose) found in milk and dairy products due to the absence of lactase, an enzyme produced by cells in the small intestines. The enzyme may be lacking temporarily, such as if you have an infection, but it can also be a longer-term problem. Either way, lactose intolerance may produce a variety of symptoms, including stomach pain, cramps, and bloating. Although the symptoms may be uncomfortable, lactose intolerance is not a life-threatening reaction.
Milk Allergy Symptoms
The symptoms of milk allergies can vary widely from one person to the next, and symptoms may also be different between children and adults.
Generally, the following symptoms may appear within minutes to several hours after consuming milk or milk products in people with allergies:
- Tingling and swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat
- Shortness of breath, chest tightness, and trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Fainting or dizziness
Loss of consciousness or blood pressure
Along with these allergy symptoms, you may experience a more serious reaction called anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- Skin problems including a rash, hives, and itching
- Swelling of the tongue or throat
- Gastrointestinal symptoms include stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting
Sometimes, children and infants may experience other symptoms that indicate an anaphylactic reaction, including swelling of the throat, tongue, and lips, a skin rash or hives, stomach pain and upset, spitting up, wheezing, coughing, hiccups, bringing the knees to the chest, arching of the back, and eyes that are itchy and red. Younger children and infants are also more likely to have blood in their stools. They may also experience stomach cramps and failure to thrive, which means they do not grow or gain weight as quickly as their peers.
How Are Allergies Diagnosed?
Milk allergies may be diagnosed in several ways. For starters, an allergy specialist in Las Vegas will start by asking about a personal or family history of allergies. The allergist may also ask you for a personal description of what happens when you eat or drink foods that have milk in them. The doctor may also want to know if there are any repeat patterns, such as what symptoms you experience and if they always occur after you consume milk, and what kind of reactions you generally get. To officially determine if you have milk allergies, an allergist will likely perform allergy testing. Two of the most commonly used tests for allergies to milk are a skin prick test and a blood test. Sometimes, an allergist may suggest an oral food challenge. In this test, you’ll be asked to consume a small amount of milk to see if it produces any reactions. This kind of test is generally performed on people less likely to have severe allergic reactions. An oral food challenge can be used in younger patients to determine whether or not they have outgrown an allergy, and it can also help distinguish between a true food allergy and an intolerance. An allergist may also refer you or your child to a gastroenterologist to determine if an allergy or another condition causes the GI symptoms you are experiencing.
How to Prevent Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions can range from uncomfortable to frightening. No matter how severe your reactions are, you are likely looking for ways to avoid an unpleasant allergic reaction in the future. Milk is found in many foods, including alcohol, pasta dishes, and even breaded meat. Ice cream, cream sauces, mashed potatoes, cookies, and other frozen foods contain milk. Since milk is so prevalent, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor about how to avoid foods that have milk in them. On your own, you can always read the labels of foods that you plan to consume to make sure they do not have milk.
Another consideration you should be aware of is the risk of cross-contact or cross-contamination. The terms are often used interchangeably, and they have the same meaning, which is when foods that contain an allergen come into contact with foods that do not. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to know when the foods or drinks you eat have been contaminated with milk products. Therefore, it is essential always to read the label on products you are consuming and make other people aware that you have a milk allergy. If you have a child with a milk allergy, alert babysitters, caregivers, and school staff of your child’s allergy.
Treating Milk Allergies
If you have a milk allergy, you’re likely wondering how a doctor can treat the allergy and manage your symptoms so that you don’t have to experience symptoms in the future. To be truly safe from a future reaction, avoiding milk and milk products is the way to go. Parents of children who are too young to know how to avoid milk products should read ingredient labels carefully to avoid accidental exposure. Fortunately, milk is one of eight allergens that requires a label under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Manufacturers who produce packaged food must list milk and milk products if they are selling their products in the US. Milk proteins, which include whey and casein, must be labeled appropriately. Milk proteins appear in many foods, including energy drinks, beverage mixes, and even chewing gum.
If you suspect an allergy, it’s important to get tested and manage your symptoms. If you’re wondering, “where can I find an allergist near me?”, you can make an appointment at Tottori Allergy and Asthma by calling (702) 240 4322 or scheduling an appointment online.