Who gets a 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 a 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. A milk allergy can develop in both formula-fed and breastfed infants. Breastfed infants can develop a 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 a milk allergy can lose their allergy as they grow older.

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 large volumes of milk. Lactose intolerance is rare 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 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.