In the UK, around one in ten people are lactose intolerant and over 1 million people have a dairy allergy. According to cowsmilkallergy.co.uk, most children grow out of a cow’s milk allergy by the age of five. Although uncommon, it is possible to develop a milk allergy at any age.
What is a Dairy Allergy?
Amy E. Barto explains that, “Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are very different entities”.
A milk allergy, usually referring to cow’s milk, is an immune system malfunction where the immune system identifies specific milk proteins as harmful, this triggers the body to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to neutralise the proteins. When the body next comes into contact with these proteins, the body will recognise these IgE antibodies, and the immune system will release histamine, triggering an allergic reaction.
The two proteins in cow’s milk that can cause an allergic reaction are casein and whey. It is possible to be allergic to just one milk protein or both.
Symptoms of a Dairy Allergy
When having an allergic reaction, you may notice some symptoms immediately, whilst others take some time to develop.
Mayo Clinic lists immediate symptoms as:
- Itching or tingling feeling around the lips or mouth
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Coughing or shortness of breath
Symptoms that may develop over time:
- Loose stools or diarrhoea, which may contain blood
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Colic (in babies)
According to Kids Health, anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that causes the airways to swell and close, putting the body into shock.
Anaphylaxis may start with similar symptoms to a milder reaction but quickly worsen. People suffering from an allergic anaphylactic response should immediately use an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) and contact the emergency services.
Bupa says that lactose intolerance is when the body has trouble breaking down lactose, a sugar found in dairy. This happens when the body does not produce enough lactase, the enzyme used to break down lactose and allow them to absorb into the bloodstream. If the lactose is not absorbed, the lactose will move into your large intestine, and the bacteria will break down the lactose producing carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane. These gasses lead to the unpleasant symptoms of lactose intolerance.
There are four different types of lactose intolerance; Primary, secondary, congenital and developmental.
- Primary lactose intolerance happens naturally and develops on its own over time. This is the most common type of lactose intolerance.
- According to the NHS, Secondary Lactose Intolerance is a shortage of lactase caused by a problem in the small intestine such as gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease. Secondary lactose intolerance is often temporary and can get better upon recovery from the condition that caused it.
- Congenital lactose intolerance is very rare and often runs in families. It is caused by a genetic fault causing babies to produce very little or no lactase. It is a rare and serious condition in babies and requires urgent treatment.
- Developmental lactose intolerance is a temporary lactase deficiency found in babies born prematurely due to their small intestine not being fully developed. This deficiency will improve as the baby gets older.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The NHS lists symptoms of lactose intolerance as:
- A bloated stomach
- Stomach cramps and pains
- Stomach rumbling
- Feeling nauseous – and those who suffer from lactose intolerance may report vomiting as a result.
Treatments of lactose intolerance include:
- Changing of diet by avoiding foods and drink such as milk, dairy, chocolate, biscuits, and baked other goods. Lactose substitutes can replace these.
- Taking medication
What is Dairy?
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