Dairy allergies are among the most common food allergies in the world, and there are a number of techniques which can be used to live with these allergies. As with all food allergies, it is very important to take allergy tests or go on an elimination diet to confirm that dairy is the culprit behind the allergic reactions. An allergy specialist can provide a consultation for a patient who believes that he or she has a dairy allergy. Confirmation is important because a wide array of foods can cause allergies, and it is important to narrow down the true allergen.
It is also important to distinguish between allergies and intolerance. When someone is allergic to dairy, his or her immune system has developed antibodies to casein or whey, two proteins found in dairy products. When dairy is ingested, the body's immune system reacts, causing hives, congestion, eczema, and other symptoms. With a dairy intolerance, the patient lacks the enzymes needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, and as a result, he or she experiences gastrointestinal distress when dairy is consumed. Allergies can be life threatening, while an intolerance is simply uncomfortable and unpleasant.
In the case of someone with true dairy allergies, all dairy products need to be avoided. This includes milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, cream, and so forth. People also need to watch out for casein, whey, and other milk products in processed foods, especially soy meat substitutes made for vegetarians. Many soy products are fortified with casein to increase the amount of available protein in the food. Dairy products are also sometimes hidden as “natural flavorings,” which can make them hard to avoid.
Some people with dairy allergies cannot drink cow's milk, but they can consume goat, sheep, or other milks. This is because dairy allergies can manifest in slightly different ways, triggering unique reactions. Before testing other dairy products to check for a reaction, a patient should talk with his or her allergy specialist. Patients who experience severe reactions to dairy may also need to carry an epinephrine injector so that in the event that they ingest dairy products, they can be treated rapidly.
In the case of dairy intolerance, some people avoid dairy products, while others take oral supplements to replace the enzymes their bodies are not making so that they can drink milk. Lactase-fortified milk is also available. Lactose levels are also very low in cheeses, especially hard cheeses, so many people with lactose intolerance can successfully enjoy cheese without experiencing symptoms.
Parents may be pleased to learn that children often grow out of dairy allergies by the age of five or six.