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When people are allergic to dairy, they get allergies from proteins in cow’s milk (and occasionally goat’s milk). These allergies are distinctly different than being lactose intolerant, which some people call being "allergic" to milk. With lactose intolerance, people don’t tolerate the sugar in milk, called lactose, because they do not have the corresponding digestive enzyme, lactase, to cope with lactose sugar. Triggered by the digestive system, the body can respond in numerous ways, and usually with significant stomach upset. With true dairy allergy, the body’s immune system responds whenever exposed to cow’s milk proteins.
Those with real dairy allergy can have a variety of symptoms when exposed to any types of milk products, including things derived from milk like whey or casein. They may get a skin rash, asthma, hives, and have stomach upset in the form of vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Some will suffer anaphylactic shock after initial exposure to dairy proteins, and this is medically urgent because it can impair breathing as the throat swells. True dairy allergy may mean carrying an epinephrine shot called an epi-pen, at all times if anaphylactic shock has occurred in the past.
The way to treat dairy allergy is with total avoidance of any products that contain dairy, and this can be challenging. Even trace amounts can spark allergies in some people, which means that a few dairy allergy sufferers may have to be certain that foods they eat could not possibly have come into contact with any dairy products. Additionally there are many things in foods that are dairy derived, and these need to be carefully avoided too.
Essentially, dairy allergy means reading packaging carefully, and looking for products like lactic acid, whey, caseinate, sodium caseinate, casein, and butter flavoring, in addition to the more obvious products like milk, cream, butter, and ghee. People should not be fooled by foods being labeled “non-dairy” since these may still contain half a percent of dairy products. Instead, the label “dairy free” may be more helpful. It also may be important to make sure food isn’t processed or created in plants where dairy is used, since trace elements on equipment may transfer to food that technically isn’t supposed to have milk products in it
Some people actually outgrow dairy allergy, but others remain severely allergic to milk proteins. There can certainly be issues with avoidance of milk, since it is a great source of protein especially in growing bodies. The problem may be addressed readily when bottle-fed babies use soy formula. Babies who are breastfed may do so safely, but it may be necessary for mothers to eat a dairy free diet if the baby has shown dairy allergy.
In older children, it’s essential that calcium supplementation be given to replace the calcium naturally found in milk. This can be given in fruit juices, and there are a few vegetables with high calcium levels. Children with extreme forms of this allergy might also need to wear an identification band. They need to be cautioned not to accept food from others in environments like school, since this may lead to severe illness, and any school or other place that cares for the child should be informed about the allergy and the consequences of treating it lightly.
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