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Dairy Allergy Symptoms

Dairy allergy is a common food allergy among infants. Although most kids outgrow it by adulthood, some of them retain it throughout lifetime but this is a rare occasion. The protein found in cow’s milk and other dairy products triggers an allergic reaction in about 2.5 per cent of children.

What is Dairy Allergy?

Dairy allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction occurring due to one of the proteins alpha-casein present in milk and all other dairy products. The protein acts as an allergen in the process. The protein on consumption or on application leads to either mild symptoms in some or severe anaphylaxis symptoms in others.


The cause of dairy allergy is solely associated with the body’s immune system. The immune system mistakenly identifies the alpha-casein protein as a harmful pathogen and does its best to eliminate the invading foreign particle from the body. In order to eliminate the antigen, the immune system triggers the production of antibodies (IgE) so that next time the body is confronted with the same antigen, it remains prepared well in advance for the attack. The onset of allergic response occurs when the same antigen enters the body and the antibodies signal the immune system to trigger the production of chemical called histamine. Histamine is responsible for all the allergic signs and symptoms of dairy allergy.

Dairy Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of dairy allergy start showing up within few minutes to a couple of hours of consuming dairy products. They usually range from mild irritations to dangerous anaphylaxis; varying from person to person.

Mild symptoms include the following:

  1. Skin irritations such as hives, rashes, redness, itchiness, swelling or eczema
  2. Allergic conjunctivitis such as red, itchy, watery eyes
  3. Symptoms related to airway such as runny nose, coughing or wheezing
  4. Gastrointestinal reactions include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or cramps and diarrhea.
  5. Angioedema such as swelling of lips, tongue or face

Fatal Anaphylaxis Signs & Symptoms due to dairy allergy

Dairy allergy can also cause fatal anaphylaxis reaction, the symptoms of which include:

  1. Serious difficulty to breathe or asthma
  2. Severe gastrointestinal problems
  3. Dizziness or lightheadedness
  4. Loss of consciousness

Symptoms of dairy allergy in babies can differ from the symptoms occurring in elder children and adults.

Risk factors

Dairy allergy can victimize anyone at some point in their entire life span. Yet there are some factors, which enhance the likeliness to develop this allergy. Such risk factors include:

  1. Age:Alike most other food allergies, age plays a pivotal role in the development of dairy allergy. Tender age signifies immature immune system and hence there is more risk for the infants to develop dairy allergy as compared to adults.
  2. Family history:If parents or any other family member has a history of any food allergy, there is a considerable risk for the babies to develop allergy to dairy products.
  3. Past allergy:The infants usually outgrow dairy allergy. However, there are chances for the allergy to recur at some stage of life even after it is outgrown.
  4. Breastfeeding:Breast-feeding can prove to be a potential risk factor in terms of developing allergy to dairy ingredients. Babies although do not have any direct intake of dairy proteins; the allergen gets transmitted through breast milk when mother consumes any dairy product.

Allergies associated with dairy allergy

Due to cross-reactivity, people allergic to cow’s milk and other dairy products manufactured out of cow’s milk might be at risk of developing allergy to milk and several milk products of other grazing mammals such as goats, sheep, etc. Goats and sheep produce milk with almost similar kind of protein as cows that can cause allergic reactions in the human body.

Treatment of dairy allergy

Basically, there is no cure for daily allergy. The only way to treat it is to manage it well and be prepared for the adverse reactions it can trigger. Management of dairy allergy involves a complete avoidance of dairy products. In order to follow a strict regime of dairy exclusion diet, it is essential to know what all products contain dairy ingredients. The list goes on:

  • Curds
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Margarine
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Pudding
  • Custard
  • Artificial butter flavor
  • Butterfat
  • Butter oil
  • Buttermilk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream
  • Sour cream
  • Sour cream solids
  • Casein
  • Caseinates (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, ammonia)
  • Hydrolysates (milk proteins, casein, whey proteins, whey)
  • Lactose
  • Lactulose
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactalbumin phosphate
  • Kefir
  • Koumis
  • Milk (whole, skim, solids, low fat, powder, non fat, protein, dry, derivative, evaporated, condensed)
  • Rennet casein
  • Whey (all forms)
  • Milk fat
  • Nougat
  • Bakery goods
  • Canned tuna

Severe dairy allergy symptoms can be treated with intravenous dosages of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room. Constriction of airway in case of anaphylaxis is immediately dealt with nebulization and keeping the patient in ventilation chamber. Proper diagnosis leads to proper treatment. The entire emergency hustle bustle can be avoided if a patient diagnosed with severe form of dairy allergy carries epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen) all the time with them.

Diet, nutrition and caution

Babies diagnosed with dairy allergy should be administered with hypoallergenic infant formulae. Hypoallergenic formulae are available in three varieties: partially hydrolyzed, extensively hydrolyzed and free amino acid based. These formulae can act as great nutrition supplements and help prevent and treat the slightest possibility of developing dairy allergy.

Dairy-free milk alternatives such as soy milk, nut milk, rice milk, oat milk or hemp milk can be used by adults for cooking and baking.

Reading food labels and understanding them is very important while purchasing food products. Some manufacturers use the terms ‘dairy-free’, ‘non-dairy’ and ‘lactose-free’ interchangeably on their labels. But are these same? The answer is largely no. Dairy-free label claim means the product is devoid of dairy ingredients. On the other hand, non-dairy means the product has a content of milk protein such as whey, casein and other derivatives. Lactose-free means that the product is suitable for lactose intolerant people but not for people who have dairy allergy. Educate yourself! Create high level of awareness! It is the only way out of the hazardous effects of dairy allergy.

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