Milk allergy is caused when the immune system (IS), which is there to protect us from bacteria and infections, mistakenly marks one or more of the 25 proteins found in milk to be harmful. Therefore it initiates a response to fight against the milk protein/s. The IS through specialised cells releases toxins, and it is these toxins that make persons with milk allergy to suffer the symptoms associated with food allergy. Milk is ranked among the top offenders for food allergies! In fact, many doctors, scientists, and health specialists recommend going dairy free as an initial test when a food allergy is suspected.
The symptoms of a milk protein allergy fall into 3 types of reactions:
- Hives - red, itchy bumps on skin
- Oedema - swelling of the skin, sometimes of the eyes and lips
- Eczema - a dry and bumpy rash
Stomach and Intestinal Reactions:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Diarrhoea (usually very runny)
Nose, Throat and Lung Reactions:
- Runny Nose
- Watery and/or Itchy eyes
- Shortness of Breath
Milk allergy and lactose intolerance
Milk allergy is often muddled with lactose intolerance. It is very important to understand the differences because it is only this way that you can help avoid the symptoms. When a person reacts to milk, the first assumption is that it is an allergy. However, things are the opposite, because while only around 2% of adults suffer from milk allergy the amount of people who have lactose intolerance are 50% or more! Lactose intolerance is caused by insufficient amount of enzymes to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk. For more details on lactose intolerance read here.
The table below shows the differences between lactose intolerance and milk allergy. Some symptoms may be common for both.
|Lactose Intolerance & Milk Allergy Comparison|
|Cause||not enough enzymes to breakdown the sugars consumed in foods||immune system thinks certain proteins in foods are of those of harmful bacteria|
|Age||starts later in childhood but most common in adults, may be temporarily present in the form of colic in babies.||starts usually from early infancy and more common in children who overgrow it, triggered in later adult life in some who never had it in childhood.|
affects the digestive system only, mainly:
usually immediate and affecting more that one part of the body-
digestion: nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea
Some people who react to milk may either have Coeliac disease or Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance. This is because these people also develop lactose intolerance. Please read our dedicated page for this. Read More »»
Managing food allergy
Currently the only 100% successful treatment for milk allergies is total avoidance of milk proteins. Infants who develop milk allergy, usually outgrow the condition. However, if the infants are breast-fed, the lactating mothers are given an elimination diet. If symptoms are not relieved or if the infants are bottle-fed, milk substitute formulas are used to provide the infant with a complete source of nutrition. Milk substitutes include soy milk, rice milk, and hypoallergenic formulas based on hydrolysed protein or free amino acids. Please note soy milk is hyperallergenic i.e. it is easy for the immune system to think it is harmful.
As explained above food allergy is triggered by proteins and the immune system mistakenly thinks they are harmful proteins. Proteins are broken down by enzymes when digested, and lack of proper breakdown may be the cause for the proteins to become allergens. Hence, as explained in Better Nutrition Journal and several medical papers enzyme therapy can help eliminate or minimise symptoms. Read Enzymes to the Rescue. Commercially available enzymes that break down proteins are available on the market and a very effective product is availably in the 'products' section here. Prolactazyme Forte does a brilliant job in most cases and can be used by children and adults alike.