Milk Allergy or Lactose Intolerance? Only Your Doctor Can Tell

May 24, 2014

“Any allergies?”

Years ago, doctors may have been the only ones asking this, but today the question can come up at restaurants, in schools and other locations. If you find yourself saying “yes,” but have never officially been diagnosed, now is the time to find out.

From milk to peanuts to shellfish, people can suffer from a variety of allergies. Unfortunately, some may learn incorrect information about an allergen and misdiagnose, thereby depriving themselves of some tasty – and nutritious – foods.

For example, many people, including some dietitians and physicians, confuse lactose intolerance with a milk allergy. A misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessarily avoiding dairy and result in unintentional health consequences.

Here’s a look at some key differences between lactose intolerance and a milk allergy:

Lactose Intolerance

  • Sensitivity to milk sugar (lactose)
  • Gastrointestinal response from an inadequate ability to digest lactose
  • Rare in young children
  • Individuals can enjoy milk and milk products with simple management strategies

Milk Allergy

  • Reaction to milk protein (e.g. casein)
  • Triggered by the immune system
  • Generally impacts young children; may be outgrown*
  • Individuals should avoid milk and milk products (unless allergy is outgrown)

Not sure what you may suffer from? Visit your doctor to find out if you have lactose intolerance or if it’s something else.

*Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America: Milk Allergy


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