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Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy: How to Tell the Difference

August 20, 2019

milk and sunny spring fieldYou have a bowl of ice cream or cereal and notice that stomach troubles seem to follow soon thereafter. If this has become a fairly consistent occurrence, you are likely beginning to question your body's ability to process dairy and wondering if a lactose intolerance could be the culprit behind your discomfort. It's a logical conclusion but not one that should be taken for granted. Before proclaiming to your gastroenterologist your certainty of lactose intolerance, consider the following:

Causes of Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy

Despite often being confused for one another, lactose intolerance and milk allergies are two very different conditions. While in both conditions, milk can be a trigger for some unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, the causes behind the two are quite distinct. Lactose intolerance is the body's inability to digest the sugar in milk, otherwise known as lactose. A milk allergy, however, occurs with the immune system mistakenly attacks the proteins found in milk (whey and casein).

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy

Milk allergy symptoms are often immediate and what one would expect with an allergic reaction: itching, rash, and hives. Lactose intolerance, however, typically shows symptoms much later, after the body has had a chance to go through the digestive process. At this point, several minutes or even hours after consumption, classic signs of stomach upset such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea may occur.

Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy - Age of Onset

One of the most telling indicators for patients wondering if they have lactose intolerance or a milk allergy is the age at which symptoms began. Food allergies most commonly make their first appearance in childhood. If anything, adults are more likely to outgrow a food allergy, as opposed to developing a new one. Therefore, if dairy-related stomach troubles develop in adulthood, lactose intolerance is the more likely culprit.

Dietary Changes for Lactose Intolerance

Depending on the severity of your intolerance, you may be able to address your symptoms simply by consuming less dairy or smaller portions. You may also avoid foods that are higher in lactose content than others, whereas some cases will require patients to avoid dairy entirely. In addition, there are over-the-counter medications available that help some patients digest lactose properly. However, it is important to note that these do not work for everyone.

If you are suffering from stomach troubles that seem to be triggered by the consumption of dairy products, you may have a lactose intolerance. To receive a definitive diagnosis, better understand the condition, and learn how to manage it properly, schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist such as Dr. Krunal Patel of Lane Gastroenterology.

Learn More About Lane Gastroenterology