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FAQ: Lactose Intolerant vs Milk Allergy

June 1, 2011

Q: When you say Joseph has a milk allergy, does that mean he’s lactose intolerant?

No. They are two different problems that are solved by avoiding milk with differing strictness.

In lactose intolerance, the body has a problem with lactose, which is a sugar in the milk. A lactose intolerant person is missing an enzyme needed to digest the lactose. The undigested lactose causes the bloating, diarrhea, and other symptoms. Some lactose intolerant individuals can tolerate small amounts of milk (if they have a small amount of the enzyme, though not as much as average people) They can also take a pill that contains the enzyme to help them digest the lactose.

In milk allergy, the body usually has a problem with casein, which is a protein in the milk. When an allergic person eats milk, the immune system targets it as an invader, and attacks. Symptoms arise as a result of chemicals such as histamine being released during the immune system’s response. Anti-histamine medicine may lower the discomfort, but there can be more severe reactions such as anaphylaxis that require medical attention.

As Joseph breaks out in hives just by touching milk, it is definitely an immune reaction, and not lactose intolerance.

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