A milk allergy may sound like a simple allergy to deal with – all you have to do is avoid milk, right? Well, if only it were that simple. Milk is used as an ingredient in all dairy products and even in foods that you may not think of like candies, baked goods and processed meats. Those foods also must be avoided in order to prevent an allergic reaction. It may seem impossible for some people to eliminate all of these foods from their diet, but it’s essential if you suffer from milk allergies.
A milk allergy, like all foods allergies, is an immune system response to the proteins in milk. The immune system mistakenly identifies the milk proteins as something harmful and begins to produce antibodies known as immunoglobulin E to attack them. Other chemicals are also produced, such as histamine, which causes many of the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The two proteins that are responsible for the reaction are:
It is possible to be allergic to both proteins or only one of these proteins. People who are allergic to cow’s milk may also be allergic to the milk of cows, goats, sheep and buffalo.
The symptoms of a milk allergy can be mild or severe and are usually experienced a few minutes to a few hours after coming into contact with milk or milk products. Those symptoms include:
The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis, which causes the airways to constrict and makes it difficult to breathe. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and requires a trip to the emergency room as well as a treatment in the form of an epinephrine shot. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
If anaphylaxis is a common reaction when consuming milk or milk products, it’s best to see a doctor for treatment.
In order to determine whether or not you truly have a milk allergy, the doctor will perform any of these three tests:
It is also possible to have an allergy to cow’s milk as well as soy, so ask your doctor to test you for a soy allergy as well.
In some cases, a person may not even have an allergy at all, but a lactose intolerance, which is often mistaken for a milk allergy. The difference is that lactose intolerance is a lack of enzymes in the stomach that can break down the sugars in milk whereas a milk allergy is an immune system response. Certain foods that are made with small amounts of milk may also be tolerated with lactose intolerance, but not with a milk allergy.
If you are diagnosed with a milk allergy, it’s important to know how to treat yourself, should a reaction occur. For minor reactions, an antihistamine should be sufficient at reducing your symptoms and reliving any discomfort. For more severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis, you will need an epinephrine shot through an auto-injector like an EpiPen or a TwinJect. It’s important to have access to antihistamines and epinephrine shots with you at all times in case of an emergency.
In order to prevent future allergic reactions, you’ll have to make some lifestyle changes, such as eliminating certain foods from your diet. Here’s a list of some of the foods that you should avoid:
Giving up ice cream and chocolate can be tough for someone with a sweet tooth, but thankfully there are alternatives, such as ice cream made with rice or soy milk. In fact, many milk products have soy or rice counterparts since vegans do not consume milk as part of their animal-free diet. Many grocery stores now contain vegan options, which are a great choice for people who have a milk allergy.
Aside from eating vegan alternatives, here are some other tips to follow:
Changing your diet may seem like a daunting task, but it’s necessary to keep you healthy in the long-run. Although having a milk allergy may seem limiting, you can still enjoy the foods that you like; they’ll just contain soy or rice instead of milk.