7 Frequently Asked Questions About Milk Allergy

People often confuse lactose intolerance with cow’s milk allergy (CMA), but they definitely are not the same thing. Keep reading to learn what the difference is, so if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms you can have a more informed talk with your health care provide when it’s time to talk about solutions.

1. What Triggers CMA?

Cow’s milk is made of different components like proteins, sugar, and fat. The allergic reaction happens when the immune system confuses the proteins in cow’s milk as a threat. The immune system releases chemicals like histamine, which instigates the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

2. What Triggers Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance comes as a reaction to the lactose (sugar), in cow’s milk. People with lactose intolerance can’t totally digest this sugar because they don’t have enough lactase, the enzyme that’s needed. Instead of being digested and absorbed into the digestive system. the lactose stays in the person’s gut and feeds the gut bacteria, which then release gases and acids that cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

3. Who Gets CMA?

Cow’s milk allergy tends to show up in kids under the age of three. Most people grow out of the allergy as they get older.

4. Who Gets Lactose Intolerance?

Only very rarely do people develop lactose intolerance as babies. This is called congenital lactase deficiency. When this happens, the person is lactose intolerant for the rest of their life.

Primary lactase deficiency typically doesn’t appear until after a child turns three. It’s more common in some ethnic groups like Hispanics and Chinese.

In some scenarios, people develop an intolerance due to a damaged gut caused by surgery, illness, or medication. This is called secondary lactase deficiency. In these scenarios, the lactose intolerance can be either temporary or permanent. It can also develop after a bout of gastroenteritis.

5. What Are The Symptoms?

Lactose intolerance and cow’s milk allergy can show some of the same symptoms like:

  • bloated stomach;
  • diarrhea;
  • stomach aches, cramps, and rumbling;
  • nausea; and
  • gas

Since the cow milk allergy involves the immune system, infants who are allergic to the proteins in cow’s milk also show allergic symptoms like runny noses, rashes, wheezing, and coughs. This symptoms are never shown in lactose intolerance.

Further, with cow’s milk allergy, even a tiny amount of cow’s milk protein have the potential to cause a reaction. With lactose intolerance, people can often eat small amounts of dairy products without experiencing any symptoms.

6. What Is The Diagnosis?

You and your doctor should talk about if you feel your (or your child’s) symptoms are more likely caused by a lactose intolerance or a cow’s milk allergy, since there are different tests for them. If you suspect cow’s milk allergy, your medical practitioner might recommend an allergy test like a skin prick test or blood test, and might tell you to put yourself or your child on an elimination diet. This will be followed with a food challenge.

If your doctor believes the symptoms are more likely caused by lactose intolerance, he or she might order a lactose intolerance test, hydrogen breath test, stool sample, or milk tolerance test.

7. How Do You Manage The Condition?

There are different ways of managing the two conditions. For CMA, all sources of cow’s milk protein have to be permanently removed from the sufferer’s diet.

Most people with lactose intolerance should eliminate cow’s milk protein from the diet until all symptoms disappear; however, unlike with allergies, those with intolerances can usually re-introduce lactose back into the diet. How much can be reintroduced without symptoms will vary among sufferers.