Milk Allergy

Milk allergy is caused when the immune system (IS) responds to one or more of the 25 proteins found in milk mistakenly marking them as a harmful foreign body, e.g. bacteria.

The IS through specialised cells releases toxins which in turn cause 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 milk allergy is suspected.


Symptoms are typical to those of an allergy reaction. Not everybody gets the same symptoms and their strength varies from person to person depending on intake and how much panicky the immune system is.

Skin Digestive System Respiratory System
Hives - red, itchy bumps on skin Abdominal pain and bloating Runny Nose
Oedema - swelling of the skin, sometimes of the eyes and lips Diarrhoea (usually very runny) Sneezing
Eczema - a dry and bumpy rash Vomiting Watery and/or Itchy eyes
Gas/wind Coughing
Cramps Wheezing
Shortness of Breath

Milk allergy is not 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 of any of the conditions. When a person reacts to milk, it is first assumed that it is an allergy. However, things are usually the opposite, while only around 2% of adults suffer from milk allergy 50% have lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is caused by insufficient amount of enzymes to break down lactose and has nothing to do with a response from the immune system. You find more about lactose intolerance here.

Milk Allergy & Lactose Intolerance Comparison

Lactose Intolerance Milk Allergy
Cause not enough enzymes to breakdown the sugars, such as lactose consumed in foods. immune system thinks that some proteins in foods (such as milk) are of those of harmful bacteria, hence, an immune response is triggered.
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.

affect the digestive system only:
abdominal bloating
gas and wind
stomach cramps

Some may experience vomiting. The magnitude of the above symptoms are inversely related to the amount of enzyme produced. Some people can produce less than others.

usually immediate and affecting more that one part of the body-
digestion: nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea
skin: swelling eczema, hives
airways: wheezing, coughing, congestion and a runny nose
anaphylaxis: most known to happen in peanuts allergy but can be triggered by all sorts of food ingestion.

Managing milk allergy

Currently the only 100% successful treatment for milk allergy is total avoidance of milk proteins. Infants who develop milk allergy, usually outgrow the condition. However, if the infant is 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. very allergenic. See also a list of food products that may contain hidden milk.

Enzyme Therapy:

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 trigger the IS. Better Nutrition Journal and other medical papers suggest enzyme therapy may help eliminate or minimise symptoms, read Enzymes to the Rescue. Commercially available enzymes that break down proteins are available on the market and may be effective, however, anyone who suffers sever allergic reactions must strictly avoid milk and its products.

Related Articles

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Enzymes to the Rescue

A medical review describing how enzymes can treat food allergy. Explains how gene therapy may one day be available to cure milk and food intolerance.

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