The Difference Between Lactose Intolerance and A Dairy Allergy
Food-related issues are a hot topic. If you don’t
have an adverse reaction to food, you
probably know someone who does. Along with peanuts, shellfish, and wheat, one
food group that can cause problems is dairy. Adverse reactions to dairy fall
into one of two categories – intolerance or allergies. Despite what you might
think, they’re not the same thing. Here’s how to tell them apart and determine
which one you have.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
If you have a lactose intolerance your body lacks an
enzyme called lactase that is needed to break down and digest dairy products.
Lactase specifically breaks down a sugar called lactose, which is traditionally
found in dairy products and milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance, including
cramps, gas, diarrhea, and bloating, can be uncomfortable. However, they are
What is a Dairy Allergy?
The key difference between food intolerance and an
allergy is that an intolerance only affects the digestive system, while an allergy
affects the immune system. Therefore, a dairy allergy presents more severe
symptoms that can be life-threatening. If you have a food allergy, your immune
system overreacts to a specific type of food. Specifically, it reacts to a
protein in the food — the symptoms associated with an allergy range from minor
annoyances to frightening, life-threatening reactions. When you eat a dairy
product that you’re allergic to, you might experience mild symptoms like
itching, hives, or rashes to more severe symptoms like breathing problems and
even loss of consciousness. In the most severe cases, a food allergy can cause
Who’s at Risk?
A lactose intolerance is more common in adults. In
fact, WebMD notes that by age 20, approximately 30 million Americans have
trouble digesting lactose. Ethnicity also plays a role. People of Native
American, African, Asian, and southern European descent are more likely to
develop a dairy intolerance than people of western European or northern
In the case of a food allergy, family history
influences the likelihood of you developing an allergy. If family members have
hives, eczema, asthma, or allergies to any substance, including those not
related to food, you are at a higher risk of developing a food allergy. It’s
also important to note that while lactose intolerance is more common in adults,
an allergy can develop at any age.
How are the Two Conditions Diagnosed and Treated?
When you visit the best allergist in Las Vegas, your
doctor will review your symptoms. This gives a good indication as to whether
you suffer from an intolerance or an allergy. If your doctor determines that
you have a lactose intolerance, you’ll be told to alter your diet to avoid
consuming troublesome foods. This usually entails eliminating dairy entirely or
replacing it with non-dairy alternatives like lactose-free ice cream and milk.
If your doctor suspects a food allergy, you may get
a skin test or a blood test. For a severe allergy, you might be given a
medication called epinephrine, which can prevent a life-threatening allergic
reaction. If your allergies are mild, you’ll be told to adjust your diet. Your
doctor might also recommend over-the-counter allergy medications to control
When to Call a Doctor
If you suspect that you have a lactose intolerance,
simply eliminating milk and dairy products from your diet is usually
sufficient. However, if you suspect an allergy, it is essential to get a
professional medical evaluation. If you have symptoms of a life-threatening
reaction, such as a rapid pulse rate, dizziness, trouble breathing or a drop in
blood pressure, seek emergency care immediately.
A dairy intolerance or allergy can be uncomfortable
and unpleasant. But you don’t have to live with it! Visiting Dr. Tottori, a specialist in Las Vegas allergies, is a good start. Keeping track of your symptoms and learning to adjust
your diet can help you live a healthy life without dairy products.