Allergy Myth Busting: Milk Allergy is Not Lactose Intolerance

Allergy Myth Busting: Milk Allergy is Not Lactose Intolerance

You’ve just told a new acquaintance that your child is allergic to milk. She nods at you and offers a sympathetic frown. “Thank goodness for all those lactose-free options out there now, huh?” For people living with milk allergies, that response will sound familiar; it’s also a potentially dangerous misunderstanding. Confusing lactose intolerance (which would be addressed with lactose-free options) with a milk allergy (which would not) can have deadly consequences. If you’re not familiar with the difference between the two, take a moment to read this.

A Doctor Knows

First, and foremost, if you suspect that you or someone you know is having an issue with dairy, ask your doctor for an evaluation. Managing your condition properly starts with having a medical professional identify the specific condition you’re dealing with. If you suspect an allergy is possible, schedule an appointment with a board-certified allergist.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a digestive system disorder. Individuals with this condition lack lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk, also known as lactose. For most of us, these sugars are normally broken down in our stomach. For those who lack lactase, the lactose is broken down in the colon by bacteria and can result in uncomfortable bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. It can be incredibly uncomfortable but not life-threatening.

What Is a Milk Allergy?

Like other food allergies, a milk allergy involves your immune system. When you consume dairy products, your immune system incorrectly identifies the milk proteins as something dangerous and reacts to it. Consuming foods with milk can trigger an allergic reaction; symptoms can range from hives and abdominal discomfort to trouble breathing, dramatic drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. A milk allergy, like any other food allergy, can be potentially life-threatening. A reaction can be triggered by trace levels of exposure to milk; therefore, allergic individuals should avoid all products containing milk. Lactose-free products, as mentioned above, may not have the sugar lactose, but they still possess the milk proteins that trigger a reaction in allergic individuals.

Other Milk Myths to Bust and Facts to Spread

There are some common misconceptions about living with a milk allergy. Remember, as mentioned above, a person with a milk allergy is reacting to a protein present in milk. The fat content of milk does not influence the presence of this protein. It doesn’t matter whether you’re offering whole milk, skim milk, or anything in between: it’s still dangerous to a milk allergic person.

Most people know that many common products contain milk, such as butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and sour cream. Other foods that contain milk may be less expected, such as caramel candies, hot dogs, non-dairy creamers, and fried foods (which may be soaked in milk before they are cooked.)

Speaking of Cooked

Can your milk-allergic child consume baked goods that contain milk? That’s a great question for your allergist. You may have heard that some milk allergic individuals can tolerate foods like muffins or other baked goods where milk is present but not a primary ingredient. Whether or not that’s you or your child, however, is something to be discussed with a medical professional.  

It’s More Common than You Think

Up to 15 million Americans are estimated to have food allergies. Of that figure, roughly 6 million of those individuals are under the age of 18. Current assessments indicate that about 2.5% of children younger than 3 are allergic to milk, making it the most common food allergy in infants and young children

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