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Milk Allergies: What You Need to Know

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Updated August 09, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Milk Allergy

Milk doesn't do every body good.

Southern Stock/ Getty Images

About Dairy Allergy:

Cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in American children. About 2.5 percent of children are allergic to the proteins found in dairy products. Dairy is not a major allergen for adults, and most children will grow out of their milk allergy or develop a tolerance to milk by the time they reach school age.

Cross-Reactions:

If you are allergic to cow’s milk you will also need to avoid goat or sheep milk. All grazing mammals produce milk with similar proteins that can cause cross-reactions for people with dairy allergies.

Symptoms of Dairy Allergy:

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to dairy usually appear within minutes to two hours of eating dairy products or food containing dairy ingredients. Symptoms may include:

Dairy allergies may cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

Lactose Intolerance:

Lactose intolerance is a common sensitivity to the sugars found in milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gassiness, intestinal cramping, and diarrhea. Symptoms may occur within an hour of eating dairy products, or may be delayed up to 12 hours.

Lactose intolerance is different from a classic milk allergy. If you have lactose intolerance, you should be able to tolerate milk that has had the lactose removed. You may also be able to tolerate yogurt, especially those which contain live, active cultures.

Babies and Dairy Allergies:

Dairy allergy is the most common food allergy for children in the United States. Most children who develop a dairy allergy will do so before their first birthday. Symptoms of dairy allergy can be different for babies than for older children or adults. Infants with milk allergies may need to be fed a special hypoallergenic infant formula.

Managing Your Dairy Allergy:

Since there is no cure for dairy allergy at this time, managing your allergy involves avoiding all dairy products and being prepared for future reactions. If you have been diagnosed with a severe dairy allergy, your doctor will prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector (commonly called an Epi-Pen) that you will need to carry with you at all times.

Food allergens can lurk in surprising places – who would ever expect milk in canned tuna? You will need to learn to read ingredient labels for dairy ingredients and ask questions when you eat in restaurants.

Labeling Laws and Dairy Ingredients:

Milk is one of the eight most common food allergies in the United States, and is covered by the food allergy labeling law (FALCPA). Manufacturers must list dairy products on ingredient labels in plain English. However, you should still learn the names of dairy-based ingredients, because some foods will not have allergy warning labels. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer to ensure that product does not contain milk ingredients.

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