So many foods are made with milk and milk products these days that people with milk allergies have to pay attention to what's in just about everything they eat. And a milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance — some people with food allergies can become suddenly and severely ill if they eat or even come in contact with the food they're allergic to.
Some foods that contain milk are obvious, like pizza. But others, like baked goods, may not be so obvious. Plus, teens need calcium and vitamin D, which milk has lots of, because their bones are still growing. So what should a person who's allergic to milk do? Read on to find out.
What Happens With a Milk Allergy?
Food allergies involve the body's immune system, which normally fights infection. When someone is allergic to a particular food, the immune system overreacts to proteins in that food.
People who are allergic to cow's milk react to one or more of the proteins in it. Curd, the substance that forms chunks in sour milk, contains 80% of milk's proteins, including several called caseins (pronounced: kay-seenz). Whey (pronounced: way), the watery part of milk, holds the other 20%. A person may be allergic to proteins in either or both parts of milk.
Every time the person eats these proteins, the body thinks they are harmful invaders. The immune system responds by kicking into high gear to fend off the "invader." This causes an allergic reaction, in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body.
The release of these chemicals can cause someone to have the following problems:
- trouble breathing
- throat tightness
- itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
- red spots
- a drop in blood pressure
Milk allergy is like most food allergy reactions: It usually happens within minutes to hours after eating foods that contain milk proteins.
Although it's not common, milk allergies can cause a severe reaction called Anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may begin with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but then quickly worsen. A person might have trouble breathing, feel lightheaded, or pass out. If it's not treated, anaphylaxis can be life threatening.
Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance because people can have the same kinds of things happening to them (like stomach pains or bloating, for example) with both conditions. But they're not related:
- Milk allergy is a problem involving the immune system.
- Lactose intolerance involves the digestive system (which doesn't produce enough of the enzyme needed to break down the sugar in milk).
Remember always the best person to give you medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment is your doctor or other qualified medical professional. That's because getting good care means talking personally with your doctor, who can learn about you and ask you questions, carry out an exam, and — when necessary — order tests.