There is a lot of confusion about milk allergy and lactose intolerance. People often use them interchangeably. In reality, though, they are two distinct issues with unique symptoms and causes.
Lactose intolerance results when the body does not have enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in dairy products such as milk. Lactose intolerance is a common problem. It generally takes longer to develop than milk allergy and may occur at any stage in life.
Lactose intolerance may be genetic. It can also be caused by damage to the small intestines from bacterial or viral infections. It is estimated that about 80 percent of African Americans have lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is also prevalent among Asians and Native Americans.
Approximately 30 to 50 million Americans have lactose intolerance. The condition may worsen with age. It is quite common among the elderly. Symptoms of lactose intolerance may occur between 30 minutes to two hours after ingesting dairy products such as milk. Symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Bloating and gas
Milk allergy, on the other hand, is a real food allergy caused by the body’s allergic reaction to the protein in milk. The body perceives these harmless proteins as enemy invaders, and the immune system reacts by releasing chemicals into the body that cause allergy symptoms.
Milk allergy usually shows up quite early in life and generally refers to an allergic reaction to ingesting cow’s milk. Milk allergy is common among infants and children, but kids generally outgrow it by the age of 5. In some cases, however, milk allergy may persist into adulthood or may even develop in the adolescent or adult years.
An allergic reaction to milk may start within minutes or may occur after several hours of eating or drinking dairy products. Symptoms include the following:
- Stomach pain
- Trouble breathing
- Skin rash
- Swelling of the throat or lips
- Hay fever
If milk does not sit well with you, enlist your doctor to help you discover why your body is reacting to dairy products. While there is no treatment for lactose intolerance, there are many lactose-free dairy products to choose from. For milk allergy, ask your doctor about sublingual immunotherapy to help desensitize your body to milk proteins.