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What Is Milk Allergy?

A milk allergy is a reaction to the proteins found in cow and other mammals’ milk. The body’s immune system reacts to the milk proteins and then triggers a variety of symptoms.

According to the stats related to milk allergies, dairy allergy is one of the most common allergies, especially in children. Between 2% to 3% of children younger than 4 years of age are allergic to milk. Milk allergy is even more common in babies. In the United States, almost 90% of allergic responses to foods are caused by eight foods, and cow's milk is the most common of them.

Milk Allergy Symptoms

The majority of milk allergy symptoms can be lumped into four categories based on the type of reaction. These are skin, respiratory, digestive, and behavioural. The symptoms range from mild to severe and may become life-threatening. They could appear immediately or over a period of several days and also vary in response based on mild, moderate, and large quantities of milk and dairy intake.


  • Itching
  • Red Rash
  • Eczema
  • Hives
  • Shiners or Black Eyes
  • canker sores (Aphthous Ulcers) 
  • Swelling of the Lips, Mouth, Tongue, Face, or Throat


  • Abdominal Pain
  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Abdominal Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas or Flatulence
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


  • Runny Nose and Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Watery Eyes
  • Itchy Eyes
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Sinusitis


  • Anxiety 
  • Fatigue
  • Migraine headaches
  • Hyperactivity (ADHD)
  • Irritability
  • Night-waking
  • Sore muscles and joints


It is a systemic allergic reaction that may involve multiple areas of the body. This could show symptoms in the skin, cardiovascular system, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may come on immediately or up to four hours after coming in contact with the allergen. 

Other Types of Milk Allergies and Their Symptoms

While we typically consume milk that comes from mammals, but there are other sources of milk as well, and people also develop allergies to them as well. These sources and their symptoms are mentioned below.


Tree nuts, including walnuts, cashews, almonds, and peanuts can also cause allergic reactions in people. But unlike cow’s milk allergy, which typically resolves at a very early age, tree nut allergies tend to last a lifetime. Only 9% of children are scientifically estimated to outgrow an allergy to almonds and other tree nuts.

Symptoms of a tree nut allergy may include:

  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing


Soy is also on the list of one of the most prominent eight food allergens. Soybeans, along with peanuts, kidney beans, lentils, and peas are in the legume family. Soy allergy is also quite common in infants.

Symptoms of a soy allergy may include:

  • Flushing
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • In rare case, may result in anaphylaxis


Many people choose to use or give their children rice milk instead of cow’s milk due to allergy concerns as rice is the least likely grain to cause an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of rice allergy include:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Rashes
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • In rare case, may result in anaphylaxis

Milk Allergy in Infants

A milk allergy may be existent from birth, or it may grow after several months a child is born. It’s obvious that babies cannot tell you when something feels wrong so look for signs such as diarrhea, hives, vomiting, runny nose, or irritability, a few minutes to a couple of hours after feeding.

In the past, experts used to believe that the vast majority of them would outgrow this allergy by the time they will turn 3. But recent studies contradict this belief.

Feeding Options for Infants with Milk Allergy

If a child is diagnosed with milk allergy, an option is that the breastfeeding mothers drop dairy products and milk from their own diets but making sure that their diet remains balanced and involves enough calcium for the health of both mother and baby.

Another option is to feed the baby with an extensively hydrolyzed, casein-based formula. This formula contains protein that is broken down, so it is different from milk protein and is less likely to cause any allergic reaction. 

Diagnosis/ Milk Allergy Tests

If you want to know that either you or your infant have milk or dairy allergy, its best to visit a doctor. The doctor will ask you about your diet, the symptoms you experienced, how long the symptoms lasted, and what you did to lessen them and recommend an appropriate test.

The most common allergy tests that he will ask you to go through are a skin-prick test or a blood test. In the skin-prick test, a liquid which could be milk or a milk protein extract is placed on your arm or at your back. Your skin is pierced with a small sterile probe that will allow the liquid to seep into your skin. If your skin develops a raised, reddish welt, typically within 15 to 20 minutes, this indicates an allergy. While in a blood test, a blood sample is tested for the presence of IgE antibodies. The results are reported in numerical value. Another type of blood test, which is called as a component test, can help to determine your risk for a severe reaction by looking for allergies to specific proteins (alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactalbumin).

The doctor may want you to do an oral food challenge, in some cases. He will ask you to eat small amounts of a substance containing milk or a milk powder under his supervision to see what kind of reaction develops. As this is a risky test because the reaction could be severe, so it is conducted with medication and emergency equipment on hand.

Milk Allergy Treatment and Management

Avoid milk, dairy products, and products containing milk protein as it is the only known and proven way to manage a milk allergy. Individuals, allergic to milk and the parents of children who have this allergy should read ingredient labels on food before consuming. The other systematic way is to administer epinephrine (adrenaline) if symptoms to milk allergy become severe.

Milk Allergy Diet

Milk is the best source of calcium and vitamin, and our body needs both. But people with milk allergies cannot drink milk, so the best sources to fulfill body needs of calcium and vitamin D are calcium-fortified orange juice and fortified soy beverage. Drink at least 2 cups of any one of this every day to fulfill your body needs. As one cup of Fortified soy beverage contains as much calcium and vitamin D as a cup of milk. Also eat other calcium-containing foods such as almonds, salmon, beans, etc. or you can take a calcium supplement as well.

Milk Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance

Many people think that milk allergy and lactose intolerance are the same things. But the way they effect on the body is totally different.

Lactose intolerance involves the digestive system. In this condition, the body does not make lactase, the enzyme that is needed to digest lactose, which is the sugar in milk. Instead of digesting normally in stomach and small intestine the undigested lactose moves into colon, where it’s broken down by bacteria. The symptoms of lactose intolerance consist of nausea, diarrhea, flatulence or gas, abdominal pain and cramps, intestinal bloating, and borborygmi (rumbling or gurgling sounds in the stomach).

On the other hand, Dairy allergy involves the immune system. If you have a milk allergy, your body reacts to the proteins in milk and other dairy products as if they are invaders. It releases substances that cause allergy symptoms. 

Dairy Food and Products 

Before consuming any product, read the ingredients mentioned on food packaging. An important factor is that people who are allergic to milk may not show or show a very mild reaction to milk if it is added in food, for example, muffin. So, try small amounts of food and see if there are any reaction caused. The dairy foods and product that contain and may contain milk and its forms and can cause allergic reactions are listed below.

  • Artificial butter flavor
  • Baked goods (if contain milk in any form)
  • Butter (butterfat, butter oil, butter acid, butter ester, buttermilk)
  • Casein
  • Casein hydrolysate
  • Caseinates (in all forms)
  • Caramel and caramel candies
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream
  • Curds
  • Custard
  • Diacetyl
  • Flavored coffee, coffee whitener, non-dairy creamer (if contain milk in any foam)
  • Hot dogs (if contain milk protein)
  • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
  • Lactic acid and bacterial cultures
  • Luncheon meat (if contain milk protein)
  • Lactose
  • Lactoferrin
  • Lactulose
  • Margarine
  • Medications (if contain milk protein)
  • Milk (in all forms)
  • Milk protein hydrolysate
  • Nisin
  • Nougat
  • Pudding
  • Recaldent(R), Opta™, Simplesse® (fat replacers)
  • Rennet casein
  • Sausages (if contain milk protein)
  • Sour cream
  • Tagatose
  • Whey (in all forms)
  • Whey protein hydrolysate
  • Yogurt