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Dairy allergy is one of the top eight food allergies in the United States. Because milk is source of many important vitamins and other nutrients, it may seem impossible to live without dairy foods. The good news is that there are many dairy substitutes and alternative recipes available that can provide all the nutrients found in milk.
Allergy vs. Intolerance
Dairy allergy, which is sometimes also called milk allergy, is an allergic reaction to one of the components of milk. Cow’s milk contains three components that may cause digestive and other problems for some people: casein protein, whey protein, and lactose sugar.
When someone has a food allergy, the body’s immune system thinks the proteins on the surface of a food are something foreign or dangerous to the body. This triggers the immune system to release antibodies to defend the body the same way antibodies defend against bacteria or a virus. The antibody releases chemicals including histamine into the body. These chemicals can cause a variety of symptoms including hives, headache, stomachache, or nausea. They can also cause the tissue in the mouth and windpipe to swell, which can make it hard to breathe. A severe reaction can cause anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal condition where the airway swells closed and cuts off breathing.
Milk allergy is typically a reaction to either casein protein or whey protein found in cow’s milk. The lactose sugar in milk is more often associated with food intolerance. This means the body is not capable of correctly digesting the food. People who are lactose intolerant are lacking a chemical enzyme called lactase that is used by the body to digest the lactose sugar. Lactose intolerance symptoms are typically confined to the stomach and intestines including bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Intolerance is often uncomfortable, but it is unlikely to cause a life-threatening reaction like a food allergy can.
Living Without Dairy
If you have a dairy allergy your doctor will probably tell you to cut out all dairy foods from your diet.