Are You Allergic to Milk or Lactose Intolerant?

Learn the Difference Between the Two



There’s some confusion surrounding dairy intolerance and allergies. Many people do not know what constitutes an allergy and what constitutes an intolerance, and when they don’t know the difference, there’s then some confusion about what people can actually eat.



For example, when hearing someone is allergic to milk, somebody might provide refreshments made with lactose-free milk, thinking they are accommodating the allergy. The person with the allergy, when hearing that the refreshments are safe to eat, could end up with a severe reaction as a result.


Learning the difference is important for protecting those who may experience violent allergic reactions to dairy products.


What is Lactose Intolerance?


Lactose intolerance occurs when a person does not have the right enzymes to process dairy products in the digestive tract. The enzyme needed is called lactase, and it specifically breaks down lactose, which is a more complex sugar found in milk.


When a person is lactose intolerant, eating milk and other dairy products can be an uncomfortable experience. They might experience bloating, gas, runny stools or stomach cramps. The symptoms, while unpleasant, are not life threatening. Many people can take enzyme pills to help aid digestion, or they can buy special milk products that have the lactose removed.


Sometimes, people with lactose intolerance can still have milk in some form. Yogurt and cheese might not affect them as much as cream, milk or ice-cream.


Lactose intolerance can be present at birth, but it can also take years to develop or it can even come and go based on diet and environment. It’s much more common than milk allergies, and it can vary in severity.


What is a Milk Allergy?


Milk allergies are not a defect of the digestive system. Like other allergies, a milk allergy presents because of the body’s immune system. The body responds to the proteins in the milk, seeing them as dangerous. The body goes into a full-on immune response. These symptoms can be mild or severe, but common allergic reactions include the following.



These are red, raised patches on the skin. They may appear randomly or even where a person has touched milk.



Itchy patches may appear. Rashes might even occur inside the mouth, manifesting as itching discomfort.



Tissues in and around the mouth can swell up in response to drinking milk. Some people may not be able to swallow properly because of throat swelling.


Digestive Problems

Similar to the symptoms of lactose intolerance, people with milk allergies may experience a wide range of digestive problems, including diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Blood in the stools from inflammation due to allergic reaction through the digestive tract is also not uncommon.


Breathing Problems

More severe allergic reactions can make it difficult for a person to breathe properly.


Milk allergies, like lactose intolerance, can manifest at any time, but they are most common in children and babies. Some toddlers may have a milk allergy, but outgrow the allergy over time. However, milk allergies can also persist throughout life, just like nut, fish or soy allergies.


People with milk allergies are usually not able to eat any form of dairy. Sour cream, yogurt, butter, cream, and cheese all contain the proteins of milk, so they can all trigger an allergic response.


Milk allergies may accompany other food allergies, but they are also more common in people who have eczema, asthma or environmental allergies. Given some overlap in symptoms, a milk allergy can be distinguished from lactose intolerance by a skin prick test at an Allergist’s office. There is not a simple test available to confirm lactose intolerance and this is usually diagnosed by a patient’s clinical history.


What Can People with Dairy Allergies Eat?


Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative food that people with dairy allergies can enjoy. For example, vegan cheese made with nuts can replace soft cheese spreads. Coconut or soy-based ice cream can make desserts easier. When food, like hamburgers, are usually topped with cheese, it is easy to order a dish that is cheese-free.


Homemade items are more challenging. Baked goods often call for milk. People with milk allergies may not be able to eat foods that have been made with milk. Generally, it’s a good idea to keep almond, soy or coconut milk around to serve as dairy substitutes when baking. Margarine or shortening can be used instead of butter.


However, it should be noted that because children can sometimes outgrow milk allergies, baked goods are a good way to slowly introduce milk protein back into a child’s diet without overloading the system. Some children can eat cooked milk, and others cannot. This is a question for your doctor, especially if your child has had a violent allergic reaction in the past.


Sometimes, milk can be “hidden” in foods. Casein, whey, lactulose, and ghee (which is a form of clarified butter) all have milk protein. Protein powders are often whey based.


Those with dairy allergies need to make sure they get enough calcium. Non-dairy sources of calcium including dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, sardines, and chia seeds. Some types of non-dairy milk, like almond and soy milk, are fortified with added calcium. Orange juice can also have calcium added.


For more information about dairy allergies, contact Oak Brook Allergists.

Posted in Blog

Allergies After Summer? It Might Be Ragweed

While many associate allergies with springtime, allergic rhinitis or “hay fever” to pollens can occur in multiple seasons.  Allergies to weed pollens, including ragweed, actually peak in the fall months.  More than 20% of Americans are allergic to weed pollens, and can experience symptoms such as frequent sneezing, persistent runny or stuffy nose, itchy nose, itchy or watery eyes, throat irritation or itching, cough, rash, or even symptoms of an asthma attack after the summer pollens have disappeared.  These symptoms are often mistaken for a cold or respiratory infection.


Ragweed typically begins pollinating in mid-August.  Pollen counts are usually highest around mid-September, but plants may continue to produce small amounts of pollen into early to mid October.  Each single ragweed plant produces nearly one billion pollen grains per season, which can be carried hundreds of miles by wind.  Therefore, you may be affected by a ragweed allergy even if you do not see the plant near your home.




There are multiple ways to treat a ragweed allergy, to temporarily alleviate symptoms and to minimize symptoms on a more permanent basis.  Visit one of our allergy specialists, who can order tests to determine if you have a ragweed allergy and prescribe treatment to minimize your inconvenient and bothersome symptoms.



Posted in Blog

Welcome to our new blog!

Our first post is coming soon!


Posted in Blog