In the UK, around one in ten people are lactose intolerant and over 1 million people have a dairy allergy. According to the NHS, most children will grow out of their cows’ milk allergy.
What is a Milk Allergy?
A lactose intolerance and milk allergy may have similar symptoms, but are two different reactions.
A milk allergy, usually referring to cows’ milk, is an immune system malfunction where the immune system identifies specific milk proteins as harmful, which 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 main 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:
- Swelling in the lips, eyes, and face
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Stomach aches and cramps
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 your small intestine does not produce enough lactase, the enzyme used to break down lactose and allow it to be absorbed 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 and is genetic.
- Secondary lactose intolerance develops when your small intestine has decreased lactase production due to a medical condition or injury. Examples of common causes are coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and chemotherapy. If the underlying cause can been fixed, lactase production may increase.
- Congenital lactose intolerance occurs in babies and is quite rare. In this instance, the decreased lactase production is once again due to genetics. The gene which causes this lactase deficiency is recessive, which means both parents must possess the gene for it to be inherited.
- Developmental lactose intolerance is typically found in babies born prematurely. As their small intestine has not yet developed properly, they have decreased lactase production but this usually improves as the child gets older.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The NHS lists symptoms of lactose intolerance as:
- Abdominal cramps and pains
- Stomach rumbling
Treatments of lactose intolerance include:
- Changing of diet, by avoiding foods and drinks such as milk, dairy, chocolate, biscuits, and baked goods. Lactose-free substitutes can replace these.
- Taking lactase supplements
What is Dairy?
According to Healthline, dairy is defined as “foods produced from the milk of mammals such as cows and goats”.
Common dairy products include:
- Ice Cream
Some people with a lactose intolerance may find that they’re able to eat some butter and hard cheese due to their low lactose content.
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5 Dairy Foods That Are Naturally Low in Lactose | Healthline
Are Eggs Considered a Dairy Product? | Healthline
Lactose Intolerance or Milk Allergy: What’s the Difference? | Everyday Health
Milk Allergy in Infants | KidsHealth
What should I do if I think my baby is allergic or intolerant to cows’ milk? | NHS
Cow’s Milk Allergy | AllergyUK
Hydrogen and Methane Breath Test in the Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance | NIH
Lactose intolerance and gastrointestinal cow’s milk allergy in infants and children – common misconceptions revisited | NIH