Who gets milk allergy?

In this article, milk refers specifically to cow’s milk and not to other types of milk such as soy milk, rice milk, goat’s milk etc. unless specified.

Although milk allergy occurs most often in infants and children, it can appear at any age and can be caused by foods that had been previously eaten without any problems. Milk allergy can develop in both formula-fed and breastfed infants. Breastfed infants can develop milk allergy to cow’s milk protein passed through breast milk, and may not have a reaction until they drink or eat cow’s milk. Many infants who have milk allergy can lose their allergy as they grow older.

Milk allergy is not the same thing as lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in many dairy products. This leads to bloating and diarrhea after eating or drinking large volumes of milk. Lactose intolerance is rare in infants and young children and is more common in adults.

What are the symptoms?

Allergic reactions to foods usually begin within minutes to a few hours after eating the food. The severity of symptoms can vary widely from one person to another. Mildly allergic persons may have itching and a few hives while severely allergic persons may experience severe, life-threatening symptoms such as breathing problems or swelling of the throat. The symptoms of food allergy may include any or several of the following:

  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Tingling or swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Anaphylaxis: sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve several areas of the body

Other things to keep in mind if you have milk allergy:

  • Many people allergic to cow’s milk may not tolerate milk from other mammals such as goat or sheep.
  • Some people with cow’s milk allergy may have a reaction after eating beef.

Your doctor can make recommendations on alternatives to milk based on your child’s age.

How do I avoid exposure?

If you have milk allergy, strict avoidance of milk is the only way to prevent a reaction. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list common food allergens on food labels in plain terms to make it easier to identify the food allergens. Food labels must clearly list eight allergens which account for almost 90 percent of all food allergies: cow’s milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.

The common allergens are listed either within the ingredient list or after the list. For example, if a product contains casein, a milk protein, the product's label should list the term “milk” either after the term casein, or state “contains milk” after the list of ingredients. The FDA currently does not require manufacturers to state if the food was processed in a facility that also processes the 8 common food allergens.

Anyone allergic to milk should avoid the following ingredients and foods:

  • Milk: in all forms, including condensed, dry, evaporated, and powdered milk, and milk from mammals (such as goat or sheep)
  • Casein and casein hydrosylates
  • Caseinates (such as sodium caseinate)
  • Whey
  • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin and lactulose
  • Butter: including butter, butter fat, butter oil, artificial butter flavor
  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese and cream cheese
  • Cream, half & half, and ice cream
  • Cottage cheese and curds
  • Custard, pudding and yogurt
  • Ghee
  • Sour cream, sour milk

Many children with milk allergy can tolerate highly heated forms of milk. This can be found in baked goods such as muffins or waffles. Tell your doctor if your child has tolerated these foods.

Milk products are an important source of calcium and Vitamin D, so it's important that you eat other foods rich in these nutrients, such as broccoli, spinach, and soy products. Please supplement appropriately.

To ensure that you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet that provides adequate nutrients, you may talk to a registered dietitian.

How can I be prepared?

  • Always know what you are eating and drinking.
  • Always check the label ingredients before you use a product, even if the food was safe the last time you ate it. Manufacturers can change recipes and a milk containing food may be added to the recipe.
  • Teach children with milk allergy not to accept food from classmates or friends.
  • When dining out, ask detailed questions about ingredients and how the food was prepared.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet with information about your allergy or carry an alert card with you.
  • Talk with your doctor about how to prepare for a reaction. Mild reactions may be treated with oral antihistamines. Your doctor may prescribe self-injectable epinephrine to carry with you at all times in case you have a severe reaction.


This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/27/2012...#11315

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