Signs & Symptoms of Dairy Allergy

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A mature couple drinking a glass of milk.
A mature couple drinking a glass of milk. (Image: View Stock/View Stock/Getty Images)

Dairy is one of the most common food allergies, especially in children. Most children outgrow the allergy, but it can persist into adulthood. Allergy symptoms vary, but gastrointestinal discomfort, respiratory distress and skin rashes are common. More severe symptoms like anaphylaxis can occur, so people diagnosed with dairy allergy should take precautions to avoid all dairy-containing foods. Most people who react to cow's milk will also react to goat's, sheep's and buffalo milk. Discuss your diagnoses with your doctor, who can advise you on necessary diet and lifestyle changes.

Dairy Allergy Details

As many as 3 percent of children under age 3 are allergic to milk and dairy, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. More than two-thirds of those children outgrow their allergy by the time they turn 16, but the remainder continue to experience reactions to dairy into adulthood. The amount of dairy that will cause a reaction varies. One person may experience a severe reaction from ingesting just a tiny bit of dairy, while another may be able to eat a small amount with only minor symptoms.

Mild Symptoms

Some symptoms occur immediately after consuming a food containing dairy. These include hives; an itchy, bumpy skin rash; wheezing; and vomiting. A little while later, you may develop other symptoms including loose stools that possibly contain blood, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, coughing or wheezing, runny nose, watery eyes, or an itchy rash commonly occurring around the mouth area.

Severe Symptoms

Milk is one of the most common food allergens leading to a serious, life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. During anaphylaxis, your airways become constricted and your throat may swell, making it difficult to breathe. Other signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include facial flushing, itching and shock, accompanied by a significant drop in blood pressure. These symptoms usually occur shortly after consuming milk or a food containing milk.

Living With Dairy Allergy

The only treatment for a dairy allergy is to avoid all types of dairy and dairy-containing foods. Because a severe reaction can occur at any time, people with dairy allergy are advised to keep an epinephrine auto-injector nearby. The protein structure of cow's milk is similar to that of other mammalian milks, so these should be avoided as well. Check the ingredient labels of foods you buy; manufacturers are required by law to include clear wording that the product contains milk. Dairy alternatives such as hemp, soy and almond milks and other products made with dairy alternatives are safe for people with milk allergy.

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