Symptoms of Milk Allergy: Its Causes and Treatments


Milk allergy is a common condition that affects both children and adults, causing a range of uncomfortable and potentially severe symptoms. When someone with milk allergy consumes milk or dairy products, their immune system reacts abnormally to the proteins found in milk, triggering an allergic response. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the causes and symptoms of milk allergy, shedding light on the various manifestations of the condition. This article will explore the available treatment options, offering valuable insights on managing milk allergy effectively and improving quality of life for those affected.

How long do Symptoms of Milk Allergy last?

The duration of symptoms in milk allergy can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the allergy. When someone with a milk allergy consumes milk or milk products, their immune system reacts abnormally to the proteins in the milk, leading to allergic symptoms.

Typically, symptoms of milk allergy can appear within a few minutes to a few hours after consuming milk or milk products. The duration of the symptoms can vary, but they generally last for a few hours to a few days. However, in some cases, symptoms may persist for a longer duration.

Common symptoms of milk allergy can include:

  1. Digestive symptoms: These may include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or bloating.
  2. Skin symptoms: These can include hives, itching, eczema, or swelling around the lips, face, tongue, or throat.
  3. Respiratory symptoms: These may include coughing, wheezing, runny nose, sneezing, or shortness of breath.

In severe cases, a milk allergy can also lead to anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

Foods to stay away from if you have the symptoms of Milk intolerance:

If you have symptoms of milk intolerance, it means that your body has difficulty digesting lactose, which is the sugar present in milk and dairy products. To manage lactose intolerance and reduce symptoms, it is advisable to avoid or limit the consumption of foods that contain lactose. Here are some common foods to stay away from if you have lactose intolerance:

  1. Milk and dairy beverages: Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and other dairy-based beverages such as buttermilk and condensed milk.
  2. Cheese: Most types of cheese contain lactose, although aged cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan may have lower lactose content and may be better tolerated.
  3. Yogurt: Regular yogurt contains lactose. However, there are lactose-free yogurt options available that you can consider.
  4. Ice cream: Traditional ice cream is typically high in lactose. Look for dairy-free or lactose-free alternatives if you want to enjoy frozen treats.
  5. Butter and margarine: While these contain minimal amounts of lactose, they are generally well-tolerated. However, if you are particularly sensitive, you may want to opt for lactose-free alternatives.
  6. Cream-based sauces and soups: Sauces, gravies, and soups made with milk or cream are likely to contain lactose. Choose alternatives that use lactose-free milk or non-dairy options.
  7. Baked goods: Some baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, and pastries, may contain milk or lactose. Check the ingredients or consider lactose-free or dairy-free alternatives.

Lactose intolerance varies among individuals, and some people may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose without symptoms. Experimenting with different foods and keeping a food diary can help you identify your personal tolerance levels and make informed choices about what to avoid or include in your diet.

How do you develop the symptoms of Milk allergy:

The development of milk allergy symptoms occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies certain proteins in milk as harmful substances and launches an immune response against them. The immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) in response to these proteins, specifically casein and whey, which are found in cow’s milk and other dairy products. When a person with milk allergy consumes milk or dairy products, the immune system releases chemicals such as histamine into the bloodstream, leading to various allergic symptoms.


The exact reasons why some individuals develop milk allergies are not clear, but there are several factors that may contribute:

  1. Genetic predisposition: People with a family history of allergies, such as hay fever, asthma, or eczema, may have a higher risk of developing milk allergy. There is evidence to suggest that certain genes may play a role in increasing susceptibility to allergies.
  2. Immature immune system: Infants and young children are more prone to developing milk allergies because their immune systems are still developing and may be more reactive to certain proteins.
  3. Early exposure to cow’s milk: Introducing cow’s milk or dairy products to an infant too early, before their digestive and immune systems are fully developed, may increase the risk of developing an allergic response.

Milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is caused by the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, due to insufficient levels of the enzyme lactase. The symptoms of lactose intolerance are typically digestive in nature, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

Different Types of Milk Intolerance:

When discussing milk intolerance, it’s important to differentiate between lactose intolerance and milk protein intolerance. These are two distinct types of intolerance, each with its own underlying causes and symptoms. Here’s an overview of each:

Lactose Intolerance:

Lactose intolerance is the most common type of milk intolerance. It occurs when the body lacks or produces insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugar found in milk. Without enough lactase, lactose cannot be properly digested, leading to digestive symptoms. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort after consuming milk or dairy products. Lactose intolerance can vary in severity, with some individuals tolerating small amounts of lactose while others may need to avoid it altogether.

Milk Protein Intolerance:

Milk protein intolerance refers to an adverse reaction to the proteins found in milk, specifically casein and whey. Unlike lactose intolerance, which involves difficulty digesting lactose, milk protein intolerance is a response to the proteins themselves. It can be divided into two subcategories:

Casein Intolerance:

Casein is a major protein in milk and dairy products. Some individuals may be intolerant to casein and experience symptoms when they consume foods containing this protein. Symptoms can include digestive issues, skin problems, respiratory symptoms, and even behavioral changes.

Whey Protein Intolerance:

Whey is another protein found in milk. People who are intolerant to whey protein may experience symptoms similar to casein intolerance, including digestive problems and allergic reactions.

Milk protein intolerance is different from a milk allergy, as an allergy involves an immune response to specific milk proteins and can be life-threatening in some cases.

What are the risk factors of Milk Allergy?

Several factors may contribute to an increased risk of developing a milk allergy. Here are some common risk factors of milk allergy:

  1. Family history: Having a family history of allergies, such as hay fever, asthma, eczema, or food allergies, can increase the likelihood of developing a milk allergy. Allergies tend to have a genetic component, and individuals with a family history of allergies are more susceptible to developing allergic conditions.
  2. Age: Milk allergy is more common in infants and young children. It often develops early in life, with many children outgrowing the allergy by the time they reach school age. As the immune system of infants and young children is still developing, they may be more prone to developing allergic reactions.
  3. Other allergies: Individuals who are allergic to other foods or substances, such as eggs, peanuts, or environmental allergens like pollen, may have an increased risk of developing a milk allergy. This suggests a general predisposition to allergic reactions in these individuals.
  4. Early introduction of cow’s milk: Introducing cow’s milk or cow’s milk-based formulas to infants too early, before their digestive and immune systems are fully developed, may increase the risk of developing a milk allergy. It is general recommendation to wait until the baby is at least one year old before introducing cow’s milk.
  5. Eczema: Children with eczema, a chronic skin condition characterized by dry, itchy skin, are at a higher risk of developing a milk allergy. The link between eczema and food allergies, including milk allergy, is known as the “atopic march.”
  6. Asthma: There is some evidence to suggest that individuals with asthma may have an increased risk of developing a milk allergy. Asthma and allergies are often interconnected, and having one condition may predispose individuals to developing other allergic conditions.

Diagnosis of Milk Allergy

Diagnosing a milk allergy typically involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and specific diagnostic tests. Here are the main approaches for the diagnosis of milk allergy:

  1. Medical history and symptom evaluation: The healthcare professional will begin by taking a detailed medical history, asking about your symptoms and their relationship to milk or dairy product consumption. They will inquire about the timing, duration, and severity of symptoms experienced after milk ingestion. Information about any family history of allergies or other related conditions will also be important.
  2. Elimination diet: In some cases, the healthcare professional may recommend an elimination diet, where you temporarily remove milk and dairy products from your diet to observe if the symptoms resolve. If the symptoms improve or disappear during the elimination phase and reappear upon reintroduction of milk, it can suggest a milk allergy.
  3. Food diary: Keeping a detailed food diary can help track your diet and symptoms, establishing a correlation between milk consumption and allergic reactions. Recording the specific foods consumed, ingredients, and symptom occurrence can assist in identifying potential patterns.
  4. Skin prick test: Skin prick tests involve placing a small amount of milk protein extract on the skin, usually on the forearm or back. The skin is then pricked with a sterile needle to allow the extract to enter the skin. If you are allergic to milk, a raised, itchy bump (wheal) surrounded by a reddish area (flare) may develop within 15-20 minutes.
  5. Blood tests: Blood tests, such as the measurement of specific IgE antibodies to milk proteins, can help in the diagnosis of milk allergy. Doctors take a sample of blood, and analyze it to determine the presence and levels of milk-specific IgE antibodies.

How to treat symptoms of Milk Allergy?

The primary treatment for milk allergy is to avoid milk and all dairy products that contain milk proteins. This can help prevent allergic reactions and manage symptoms effectively. Here are some strategies for treating the symptoms of milk allergy:

  1. Strict avoidance of milk and dairy products: Read food labels carefully to identify any ingredients derived from milk. Avoid foods that contain milk, such as milk itself, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and certain baked goods. Be aware that milk and its derivatives can be present in various processed and packaged foods, so it’s important to be vigilant.
  2. Seek alternatives: Replace milk and dairy products with suitable alternatives. There are numerous non-dairy milk options available, including soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and oat milk. Look for dairy-free or lactose-free versions of other products, such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, which can be present in many stores.
  3. Nutritional guidance: Ensure you maintain a well-balanced diet by seeking guidance from a registered dietitian or healthcare professional who can help you find suitable alternatives to meet your nutritional needs. Milk is a significant source of calcium and vitamin D, so it may be necessary to incorporate other calcium-rich foods and consider supplements to maintain adequate levels.
  4. Medications: Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend medications to manage allergic reactions. Antihistamines can help relieve mild symptoms, such as itching and hives. In cases of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis, emergency epinephrine (adrenaline) may be an ideal prescription for immediate self-administration.
  5. Allergy management plan: Develop an allergy management plan in consultation with your healthcare provider. This plan should outline steps to take in case of accidental exposure or allergic reactions.

Milk Allergy or Lactose Intolerance?

Milk allergy and lactose intolerance are two different conditions with distinct underlying causes and symptoms. Here’s a comparison between milk allergy and lactose intolerance:

Milk Allergy:

  • Cause: Milk allergy is an immune system response to proteins found in milk, primarily casein and whey. The immune system mistakenly identifies these proteins as harmful substances and triggers an allergic reaction.
  • Symptoms: Milk allergy symptoms can vary in severity and may involve immediate or delayed reactions. Common symptoms include hives, itching, swelling, wheezing, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnosis involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and specific diagnostic tests such as skin prick tests and blood tests to measure milk-specific IgE antibodies.
  • Treatment: The primary treatment for milk allergy is strict avoidance of milk and all dairy products containing milk proteins. We can use medications like antihistamines to manage mild symptoms, and epinephrine for severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis.

Lactose Intolerance:

  • Cause: Lactose intolerance occurs due to a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugar found in milk. Without enough lactase, lactose cannot properly digest, leading to digestive symptoms.
  • Symptoms: Lactose intolerance primarily involves digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes nausea. Symptoms typically occur within a few hours after consuming milk or dairy products.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnosis is usually based on a combination of medical history, symptoms, and sometimes diagnostic tests such as lactose intolerance breath test or lactose tolerance test.
  • Treatment: The main treatment for lactose intolerance is managing the intake of lactose. This can involve avoiding or reducing the consumption of milk and dairy products, using lactase supplements or lactase-treated dairy products, and choosing lactose-free alternatives.

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