Milk Allergy

Table of Contents

What Is Milk Allergy? 

Milk allergy is the body’s abnormal response to milk or other products containing milk. This allergy is one that is often found in children. Cow’s milk is usually the common cause of milk allergy. However, milk produced by sheep, goats, buffaloes, and other mammals can also cause allergic reactions.

This allergic reaction usually appears shortly after you drink milk. Symptoms also vary, from mild symptoms to life-threatening critical symptoms. Many people think that milk allergy and lactose intolerance are the same thing. However, the causes and consequences to your body are actually different.

Lactose intolerance affects your digestive system. If you are lactose intolerant, your body does not produce lactase enzymes that serve to digest lactose (the sugar contained in milk). Lactose is not digested in the stomach and small intestine, but directly transfers to the colon, where lactose will be destroyed by bacteria. This results in a feeling of bloating and increased gas production. Although harmless, this condition can cause discomfort to the sufferer.

Causes of Milk Allergy

Milk allergy is a reaction of the immune system. If you have a milk allergy, your body will react to the proteins contained in milk and dairy-containing products. Your body considers that this protein is a harmful and foreign object. This results in a reaction known as an allergic reaction.

Examples of products that contain milk are:

  • Whole milk, low-fat milk, skim milk, or buttermilk,
  • Butter,
  • Yogurt,
  • Ice cream or gelato, and
  • Cheese or foods containing cheese.

Some foods containing milk can be found in:

  • Whey,
  • Casein
  • Foods that start with “lact” such as lactose and lactic acid,
  • Sweets like chocolate, nougat, and caramel,
  • Protein powder,
  • Artificial butter flavoring,
  • Artificial cheese flavorings, and
  • Hydrolysates.

Even if some foods are labeled “milk-free” or “non-dairy,” it is possible that they contain milk protein. That is why you should be sure to always read food labels before consuming foods.

If you have a high potential of showing an allergic reaction, consult your doctor about carrying and using an emergency epinephrine injection. If you have already shown a chronic reaction, it is a good idea to wear a special bracelet or necklace to inform people around that you have a milk allergy.

When to See a Doctor for Milk Allergy

To find out if you have a milk allergy, pay attention if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned earlier after consuming dairy or dairy products. It is a good idea to contact your doctor directly for a more comprehensive diagnosis. 

At the beginning of the examination, your doctor will record your symptoms. Your doctor will also ask you for a list of foods that have been consumed, as well as whether you have ever tried to stop consuming milk and resume it to observe your body’s reaction. 

If necessary, your doctor will conduct an allergy reaction test, such as:

  • Blood test. This test is done to measure the amount of immunoglobulin E (better known as IgE) antibodies in the body.
  • Skin test. This test is different from a blood test. Your doctor will make a small incision on your skin. Then, your doctor will put a small amount of milk protein into the incision. If you have a milk allergy, then an itchy lump will appear on the punctured skin.

Keep in mind that these two tests are not 100% accurate. It is possible that your doctor will likely recommend other tests. In this test, your doctor will ask you to eat some foods to observe if you have an allergic reaction. This is done in stages. 

Symptoms of Milk Allergy

Symptoms of milk allergy vary from person to person. You may feel the symptoms within a few minutes to several hours after you consume milk or other dairy-containing products

Symptoms may include:

  • Appearance of urticaria (hives) or a skin rash
  • Itchy lips or mouth,
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, face, or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing,
  • Wheezing sounds
  • Cough,
  • Watery eyes,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Stomach cramps,
  • Shortness of breath, and
  • Vomiting

In some cases, you may also experience blood in the stool. This symptom typically occurs in infants.  

Anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis) usually occurs in more critical cases of milk allergy. Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction. This reaction can narrow your respiratory tract, even completely inhibiting it.

This reaction usually occurs within a few minutes after eating the food that triggered the allergic reaction, but in some cases, it may appear several hours after. You may experience other symptoms when you have an anaphylactic shock.

Anaphylactic shock requires medical attention and requires an injection of epinephrine (such as EpiPen, Adrenaclick, etc.).

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing milk allergy, such as: 

Other allergies

Many children who have a milk allergy also have allergies to other foods. Milk allergies are usually identified before other allergies.

Atopic Dermatitis

Many children who have a milk allergy also suffer from atopic dermatitis.

Genetic factors

You may run a higher risk of allergies if one or both of your parents have any type of allergy, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, urticaria (hives), or eczema (eczema).

Age 

Milk allergy is more common to affect children. As they grow, their digestive systems will adapt and eventually react less to milk or other dairy products. 

Treatment for Milk Allergy

If a milk allergy occurs in children, the milk allergy will gradually disappear with age. However, there are also those who still have milk allergies until they enter adulthood. The most appropriate action that can be taken is to avoid milk or dairy-containing products.

Commonly consumed medications to reduce allergy symptoms are: 

  • Antihistamines, to reduce the discomfort caused by an allergic reaction.
  • Adrenaline, to treat severe allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock. Adrenaline is typically given by injection.

Treatment Cost for Milk Allergy

Treatment costs for milk allergies may vary, depending on your choice of hospital, the amount and type of adrenaline or medication prescribed by your doctor, and the severity of the allergy.

For more details regarding the estimated treatment cost for milk allergy, hospital recommendations, and doctor appointments, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Milk Allergy

No occasion is believed to be entirely effective at avoiding food allergies, but you can reduce or not consume foods that can trigger an allergic reaction. You are recommended to carefully read the labels on foods. 

Avoid foods that contain casein, which are derivatives of milk that can be found in foods such as canned tuna, sausages, or other non-dairy products. If you are ordering food at a restaurant, you can ask for the ingredients used to make the meals. 

In the case of milk allergy in infants, you can ensure:

  • Breastfeeding is given exclusively for the first six months until the next few years.
  • Replacing regular milk with soy bean milk to keep the baby’s nutritional needs met.

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