What is a Milk Allergy?

A milk allergy is an adverse response or overreaction of the body’s immune system to the proteins in milk or products that contain milk. Most commonly people with a milk allergy are reacting to the protein, casein. When milk is consumed, the body sees the proteins from milk as a foreign invader, sending out chemicals to defend against it. Those chemicals are what cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.


👥 How common is it?

Anyone can have a milk allergy, however, it is mostly seen in infants and children. This may be due to an immature immune system as milk allergy is generally outgrown.


🐮 What is milk?

Cow’s milk is the usual cause of a milk allergy, but milk from other mammals, such as goat and sheep milk, can also cause a reaction. People with a milk allergy will need to avoid milk and milk products altogether, as consuming even a tiny amount can cause your body to react.


🥛 What’s the difference between milk allergy and lactose intolerance?

A milk allergy is when your immune system reacts to the protein found in milk. However, a lactose intolerance is not an allergy as the problem does not involve your immune system, but reflects how your body can digest the sugar, lactose.

Lactose is broken down by enzymes called lactase. People with lactose intolerance either do not produce enough lactase enzymes or none at all, and the majority of lactose intolerant people are still able to consume controlled amounts of milk and milk products without having any symptoms at all. For people with a milk allergy, however, even a tiny particle can be enough to trigger a reaction.

Milk - milk allergy fact sheet spoon guru


Symptoms of Milk Allergy

An individual with a milk allergy can experience an immediate reaction (within minutes) or a delayed reaction (within hours) after drinking or eating milk products, and the symptoms can differ from person to person.

An immediate reaction can include symptoms such as hives, wheezing, and vomiting. A more delayed reaction, that can be developed over time, can include symptoms such as loose stools – which may contain blood, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, coughing or wheezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and itchy skin rash – often around the mouth.


🚑 Anaphylaxis

Although less common, some allergy sufferers are also at risk of having a potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction. In extreme cases there could be a dramatic fall in blood pressure, the person may become weak and floppy, and may have a sense of something terrible is happening. This may lead to collapse and unconsciousness. On rare occasions, death can occur.

It is important to be able to recognize and manage reactions quickly in order to prevent serious health consequences. The first line of action for anaphylaxis is the timely use of epinephrine which is available by prescription in a self-injectable device.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to food


If you are concerned that you or your child may have an allergy, you should consult with a medical professional or a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian. If your child is diagnosed with an allergy, it’s important to inform all people involved in the child’s care. This includes their nursery, school, and after-school clubs, as well as grandparents, relatives, and the parents of their school friends.


Managing a Milk Allergy

🛒 Store bought food

Avoiding milk can be a challenge since it is present in many non-suspect foods like savoury snack flavourings, artificial sweeteners, and vinaigrettes. Having a milk allergy means avoiding products that are based on, or contain milk. Therefore, it’s important to always read the label.

As milk is one of the top food allergens in the USA and UK, its presence must always be declared on the product labels of any food product it’s in. This makes it easier to avoid.


❌ Foods to avoid

Milk-based foods or alternative names for milk include: yoghurt, whey, cheese, buttermilk, casein, cream, curds, custard, lactose and ghee

Other foods or terms that indicate or may indicate the presence of milk: caramel, chocolate, lactic acid starter culture and other bacterial cultures, margarine, nisin, and nougat

❗️It is advised to always ask your health practitioner before consuming any of these products as people’s sensitivity will vary.


✅ What replacements can I use?

There are many replacements for milk-based foods. For a drink replacement, try alternative drink products like soy, almond, rice, hazelnut, milk, oat, cashew, and even hemp milk. While soy usually has a similar amount of protein as dairy milk, it should be noted that some of these do not match the protein content.

Milk products are often seen as a go-to source of protein for many people following a vegetarian diet. However, those who cannot tolerate milk must find alternative protein sources.

It’s also important to note that when excluding milk, you could miss out on these other nutrients:

  • Calcium 
  • Riboflavin
  • Phosphorous 
  • Vitamins A, D, and B12

It is important to make sure your diet still includes these nutrients, and most alternative milks are often fortified. For example, soy milk is a source of riboflavin and vitamin B12, and usually calcium, vitamin A and D is added. Also by eating a range of other non-milk based foods to make sure your diet includes these nutrients for example, soy, meat, eggs and fish for protein.


Please note: This Spoon Guru Fact Sheet should be used as a source of information only. It should not be used as a replacement to nutritional advice from an accredited medical professional.

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