Lactose intolerance and dairy allergies, what is the difference?

While many think they’re interchangeable, they aren’t.

Lactose Intolerance 

Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products and results in the digestive system. Our bodies produce an enzyme called lactase, which helps us to digest lactose properly. The body stops producing enough lactase and they are unable to digest the sugar properly, causing gastric discomforts such as gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and nausea.

Lactose intolerance is common, particularly in adults, and though the symptoms are different that those of a dairy allergy they can cause a lot of discomfort to someone who is lactose intolerant.

Dairy Allergy (Milk Allergy) 

A person with a milk allergy is often allergic to one of two protein components of milk (​casein or whey) and results in the bodies immune system. The body’s immune system overreacts to the proteins, potentially causing symptoms such as hives, itching, and swelling, or more serious symptoms like wheezing, trouble breathing, and unwellness. Those with a milk allergy should not ingest any food that contains milk/dairy. 

Dairy allergies can be serious. Though not as common as lactose intolerance, dairy allergies affect the immune system and the symptoms can be incredible dangerous if left unchecked.

Getting tested

The tests for lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are different.

When being tested for lactose intolerance, often you will be given a drink that is high in lactose and your symptoms will be monitored before having a glucose test (blood test). Traditional symptoms can take up to 48 hours to appear after ingesting a substance that you are intolerant to, sometimes making it difficult to identify what your intolerance is, so it’s important to undergo testing from a medical professional.

Allergy testing can be done through blood tests or a skin prick test. The substance (dairy in this case) will be placed under or on the skin and then monitored to see if an allergic reaction (redness/bumps) are seen.

While these aren’t the only way to be tested for intolerances or allergies, they are some of the most common.

Living with lactose intolerance

Of the two, lactose intolerance is far easier to live with – because ingesting lactose, while uncomfortable, is unlikely to cause any serious symptoms. Opting for foods that are lactose free means that you won’t have to give up milk and cheese. There are definitely far less options available to you, but they are there and becoming much more frequent.

Living with a dairy allergy

Though much more intrusive than lactose intolerance, living with a dairy allergy is becoming considerably easier that in previous years. If allergic to dairy, you’ll want to avoid any food that contains dairy or milk, including cheese, ice cream and whey (think protein powders).

As there has been a rise in dairy free, or vegan type, diets, it has become considerably easier to find dairy alternatives. Where previously only soya milk was readily available, there is now a whole host of dairy free, plant based milk alternatives available and likewise for ice creams, cheese and other dairy products.

Published by Jamee Ria

Scottish PR and Marketing Manager and makeup and skincare addict attempting to go gluten and dairy-free.

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