Milk Allergy- Everything You Need To Know

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Did your child recently get diagnosed with a milk allergy? Are you feeling overwhelmed or anxious and like you don’t even know where to start? If that sounds like you, then don’t worry because I am here to help. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about milk allergies, including extra information about hidden dairy names and how to manage allergies at home.

two glass bottles filled with milk.

What Is A Milk Allergy?

According to Mayo Clinic, “Milk allergy is an atypical immune system response to milk and products containing milk. It’s one of the most common food allergies in children. Cow’s milk is the usual cause of milk allergy, but milk from sheep, goats, buffalo, and other mammals also can cause a reaction.”

In short, your body is unable to handle the proteins found in milk, and in response, your immune system treats it as a foreign invader. 

Up to 3 of every 100 children who are younger than 3 years of age are allergic to milk- cow’s milk in specific. However, a milk allergy can affect anyone of any age, but it’s more common in children under 16. 

There are two main types of protein in milk that might cause your immune system to overreact. You may be allergic to one or both of the proteins.

  • Casein. The “solid” part of milk (curd). It accounts for about 80% of the protein in milk, and it gives milk its white color.
  • Whey. The “liquid” part of milk when it curdles. It accounts for 20% of the protein in milk.

Unfortunately, there’s no sure way to prevent a food allergy, but you can prevent reactions by avoiding the food that causes them. In this case, avoiding milk and milk products is the primary treatment for milk allergy. 

Milk Allergy Symptoms and Reactions

It’s important to note that milk allergy symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and reactions can take a few minutes or up to several hours to appear. 

Mild Symptoms Include:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Hives
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Rash
  • Tingling around the lips or swelling of the tongue

Severe Symptoms Include:

  • Tightness of the chest
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hard time swallowing
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Anaphylaxis


Besides peanuts and tree nuts, milk is the third most common allergy to cause anaphylaxis. 

eggless turtle cake

Baking with food allergies does not need to be frustrating! Even if you can’t use certain ingredients, you can produce amazing desserts that the whole family will love.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that can narrow the airways and cause the person suffering from it to stop breathing. A person’s reaction may be immediate, or it may take a few hours to reach a critical condition, but if you see something wrong, it’s important to act quickly.

If you notice that someone is having shortness of breath, trouble breathing, a hoarse voice, or a drop in blood pressure, immediately call 911.

To know more about this severe allergic reaction, check out my post about What Is Anaphylaxis and How Is Treated.

What’s The Difference Between An Allergy and an Intolerance?

A milk allergy occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to the milk protein in something they ate. A milk (or lactose) intolerance is different because the immune system is not involved.

With lactose intolerance, you may notice you have digestive problems because your body cannot digest the sugar in milk. You may experience bloating, gas, cramps, or diarrhea, but it is not life-threatening (just uncomfortable).

Common Foods That Contain Dairy

If you or someone you know has a milk allergy, it is super important to truly understand what they can and cannot eat. Here are some of the most common foods that contain dairy:

  • Milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter and ghee
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ice cream and custard
  • Cream (sour cream, heavy cream, whipped cream, etc.)

Ingredients To Avoid

Now that you have to avoid dairy, it’s important to know that there are many names for it. If you’re reading ingredient labels, be alert for these secret dairy products:

  • Casein 
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Lactose/ lactate
  • Lactitol
  • Whey products
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactoferrin
  • Artificial butter flavor
  • Artificial cheese flavor

Outgrowing A Milk Allergy

Did you know that between 2-3% of all children under the age of 3 have a milk allergy? While it is fairly uncommon, and sometimes a hard diagnosis to handle, there is hope that your child will outgrow it.

If you have a child that’s been diagnosed with a milk allergy, there is an almost 20% chance they will outgrow it by the time they turn 3 or 4 and a 75% chance they will outgrow it by the time they are 16. 

How To Manage A Milk Allergy At Home

The easiest way to manage a milk allergy at home is by simply avoiding anything that contains milk. You can read labels, color code food in the fridge, and have designated shelves in the pantry for safe snacks.

I have quite a few tips in my post about ‘How To Keep An Allergy Friendly Kitchen’ that will also help to guide you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long after eating dairy do allergy symptoms start?

Symptoms can appear at any time, from within a few minutes to up to several hours. It varies from person to person based on the severity of their allergies.

What happens if a dairy allergy goes untreated?

If a milk or dairy allergy, or any food allergy, is left untreated, the person suffering may start to experience anaphylaxis which can be fatal.

Why am I allergic to dairy all of a sudden?

Milk allergies usually show up early in life so It’s unlikely you’ll suddenly develop a true dairy allergy later in life, but an intolerance to lactose can occur suddenly for many reasons. However, you need to consult with your doctor and get tested to confirm if you have an allergy or intolerance.

Can I consume milk is my baby allergic to it?

If you’re breastfeeding and your baby is allergic to milk, cow’s milk proteins passed through your breast milk may cause an allergic reaction. You may need to avoid all products that contain milk. 

Are eggs dairy?

Eggs are NOT a dairy product! While eggs are usually found in the dairy aisle in most grocery stores, they are not a derivative of dairy products. Foods are only considered dairy products when they are produced from the milk of mammals. Eggs are laid by birds, such as hens and ducks. Birds are not mammals and don’t produce milk.

While a milk allergy may be a hard diagnosis to handle at first, there really is no reason to worry. You may feel scared, angry, or overwhelmed, but if you look in the right spots, there can be an overabundance of support.

Living with a food allergy is totally manageable! Yes, it requires attention to detail, planning, and vigilance. It also means that certain foods must come out of your diet. But it does not mean that life as you know it will end. With some simple safety steps, you can still eat out, travel, go to parties, send your child to school or on play dates, and live a normal life. 

Join a local group for allergy moms and families. If you don’t have any close by, Facebook also is a good alternative to finding a virtual group. You might also find a blog, or listen to a podcast, and I can guarantee you won’t feel as alone. It’s going to be hard at first, I’m not going to lie, but I have faith that you can (and will) overcome this.

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