Who gets a milk allergy?
In this article, milk refers specifically to cow’s milk and not to other types of milk such as soymilk, rice milk, goat’s milk, etc., unless otherwise specified.
Milk is one of the most common food allergens. An allergen is a food that causes an allergic reaction, such as hives, swelling, and trouble breathing. Although a milk allergy occurs most often in young children, it can appear at any age. The allergic reaction can be triggered by milk-containing foods that had been previously eaten without any problems.
A milk allergy can develop in both formula-fed and breastfed infants. Some infants have a type of cow’s milk allergy commonly referred to as “cow’s milk protein allergy,” which causes blood in the stool. Other infants have an allergic reaction that includes immediate symptoms, such as hives and vomiting. In both cases, many infants will outgrow the symptoms during childhood.
A 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 lactose-containing foods. Lactose intolerance is uncommon in infants and young children and is more common in adults.
What are the symptoms of a milk allergy?
Allergic reactions to foods usually begin within minutes of eating the allergen-containing food though may occur up to 2-3 hours after ingestion. The severity of symptoms can vary widely from one person to another. Mild symptoms may include itching and a few hives while a severe allergic reaction may include life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and sudden drop in blood pressure. The symptoms of an allergic reaction may include any or several of the following:
- Tingling or swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- Chest tightness, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dizziness and fainting
- Drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness
- Severe reactions can result in death
Other things to keep in mind if you or a loves one has milk allergy:
- Many people allergic to cow’s milk may not tolerate milk from other mammals, such as milk of goats or sheep.
- Less commonly, some people with cow’s milk allergy may have a reaction after eating beef.
- History of a mild reaction does not mean a subsequent reaction will also be mild.
- History of a severe reaction does place you at risk for a subsequent severe reaction.
Your doctor can make recommendations on alternatives to milk based on your child’s age.