Milk: Am I allergic or intolerant?

What are the differences and similarities?
Everyone has heard of one of the most common intolerances: lactose, but do you know that a milk allergy and lactose intolerant are actually different? When doing a google search “Milk allergy vs lactose intolerance” the first article that popped up is from January 2012, but this is still an issue today and it’s important to at least know the facts. So what are the main differences and similarities?


What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is one of the most common intolerances/ sensitivities in America today. Lactose intolerance is a digestive system reaction to ingesting milk products that mostly results in an uncomfortable stomach. Lactose intolerance is much more common than a milk allergy and can show up at any stage of one’s life. This is mostly an uncomfortable feeling and not as severe as an allergy.

What is an allergy to milk?
An allergy to milk is when the immune system reacts due to ingesting even trace amounts of milk. This reaction could be extremely severe or just uncomfortable but the body can not properly handle milk. Milk allergies generally show up very early in one’s life. Allergies can be life threatening and need to be treated right away.

What are the symptoms?
Below is a short list of common symptoms. Do note that some are crossover symptoms and can occur in both incidences.

Intolerance Symptoms Allergy Symptoms
Diarrhea/ Gas Stomach pain
Bloating/ Cramping Skin rashes/ Hives
Recurrent Abdominal pain Swelling of the lips and/ or throat
Nausea Difficulty breathing

Which one is worse?
An allergy is much more severe than an intolerance. Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder and affects the way the body processes the food. An allergy to milk is an immune system reaction that could result in anaphylaxis, therefore, an allergy is worse. With a milk allergy breathing can become difficult and hives can develop, with an intolerance it’s more of an uncomfortable feeling in the stomach that will go away with time but isn’t life threatening. Both of them are uncomfortable and cause gastrointestinal symptoms which can cause confusion but knowing the symptoms and differences can help when differentiating.

What is the main difference between allergies and intolerances?
An allergy is an immune system response to a substance which it has become hypersensitive (or allergic to). This could result in a sudden, severe, life-threatening response called anaphylaxis (AKA anaphylactic shock). Intolerances are much less severe and are a digestive system response to a substance which it is sensitive to. The main difference is in the symptoms and severity of the body’s reaction. Neither one are comfy, but one is way worse for you (allergies) and the other mostly bothers your stomach and digestive system.

Tips and tricks if you need to avoid milk:
Learn the synonyms of milk and look for them on labels. If you know what casein and whey are (among others), it will be easier to avoid harmful foods. Reading all labels is key. If something was packaged in the USA any time after 2001 and contains milk it is required to state in plain language on the package that milk is present.
If you or someone you know is experiencing discomfort or pain when ingesting milk (or any allergy) consult your doctor. It is important to know what to do should an emergency occur. This article scratches the surface in explaining the differences but there are many resources out there to help!

Sources: allergy-vs-lactose-intolerance/

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