About Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance v Milk Allergies

As both lactose intolerance and milk allergies are reactions to dairy, it can be confusing to work out what may be causing your symptoms. However, as the management and treatment of allergies and intolerances is very different, we recommend you see your healthcare practitioner if you are uncertain.

Lactose intolerance is caused by not having enough lactase enzymes to break down the lactose in dairy products during digestion.

Milk allergy is a true food allergy caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in milk.

The following table shows some key differences between the two conditions. It is important that dairy allergies are medically diagnosed and a management plan is prepared with your doctor. Strict avoidance of dairy is usually necessary to reduce the risk of reactions.

Key difference between Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergies

 Lactose IntoleranceMilk Allergy
Age of onsetCan affect any age, but commonly begins later in life.Most common in babies and infants under 3 years.
Age of ResolutionResolution depends on the underlying cause of the condition. Although babies will often grow out of the condition by about 3-4 months, adults often have the condition for life.Most children grow out of their milk allergy by school age.
TriggerSmall amounts of dairy can normally be tolerated without symptoms.Even trace amounts of dairy can cause a reaction.
SymptomsSymptoms are related to gastric upset – excess bloating, gas or flatulence, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhoea.Many symptoms are the same as those for Lactose Intolerance – stomach pain, nausea and diarrhoea. In addition, allergic reactions are systemic (body-wide) and may include an itchy rash or hives, runny nose, swelling of the lips or throat, coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing.
ManagementConsumption of dairy can be managed with enzyme supplements or reducing intake of dairy. Continued exposure to dairy does not make the condition or symptoms worse.Allergic reactions can be very severe, even life threatening, and often get worse with continued exposure to the allergen. Strict avoidance of milk proteins is normally recommended.