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Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Milk Allergy

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Like all food allergies, milk allergy is also caused when the body's immune system misfires. The proteins contains in milk could accidentally trigger the body's immune response, and the body produces a chemical known as histamines to neutralize the perceived threat. Children may develop allergies to cow's milk very early in their life. In fact, milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies seen in young children. Though milk allergy is usually caused by cow's milk, it could also be caused by goat, buffalo, and soy milk. Very rarely, an infant may be allergic to breast milk. This is usually caused when the mother has been consuming cow, buffalo, sheep, goat, or soy milk. The allergic reactions may occur minutes after the milk is consumed. In some people, the allergies may also be caused after a few hours of consumption. The reaction is usually mild, and it is severe only in rare cases.

Tests Recommended

One of the toughest things for allergists is to distinguish between lactose intolerance and milk allergies. These two are often mistaken to be the same, but in fact, they are extremely different. While lactose intolerance is caused from the absence of digestive enzymes that help in the processing of milk proteins, the allergy is caused by presence of the milk proteins themselves. Your doctor may first conduct a complete physical examination to check for possible symptoms and then also get a detailed medical history of your condition. Your blood tests may help check for the presence of antibodies in your blood. In case these antibodies are present in your blood, the doctor will then proceed to prescribe further testing. Often, you may not know which food is causing the allergic reactions. In such a case, a skin test may be performed. Your skin is pricked and suspected allergens are exposed to it. The doctor then reviews the resulting changes in the skin and makes a diagnosis. If you are not sure whether you have lactose intolerance or allergy, you will have to take milk allergy tests aimed at identifying whether the condition represents an allergy or intolerance.

Causes

Like all other food allergies, milk allergy causes are also related to a misfiring immune system. Certain proteins in milk may be considered harmful by the immune system. Whey proteins and casein are usually the proteins that can trigger off the allergies. To neutralize this perceived threat, the body produces a chemical known as histamines as well as antibodies. These may cause various allergic reactions such as rashes and digestive discomfort. Different people experience the symptoms differently. Since there are two types of proteins that may cause milk allergy, it is not always sure which one of them is responsible.

Symptoms

Milk allergy symptoms may differ from one person to another. Some people may not be able to consume even the smallest quantities of milk and other dairy products, while others may be able to consume very small quantities without getting any reactions. Milk allergy symptoms in toddlers and adults are more or less the same. The first signs of milk allergy are seen on the skin. Almost immediately after the consumption of milk, you may see skin reactions such as hives, inflammation, and rashes. Some people, however, may not present any skin reactions at all. There may be some respiratory discomforts such as wheezing, inability to breathe or labored breathing, and coughing. Other nose, throat and lung reactions include sore throat, runny nose, and water eyes.

Digestive discomfort is also often seen as a symptom of milk allergy. You may experience nausea, vomiting, bloating, flatulence, increased burping, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort among other stomach and intestinal reactions. Sometimes, the loose stools may also contain traces of blood. In babies, colic may also manifest. In rare cases, the allergy may cause anaphylaxis. This is a life threatening condition in which the airways in the lungs get completely blocked, cutting off air supply to the body. This can be fatal if not treated immediately. Some people may also experience dizziness and loss of consciousness due to a sudden drop in the blood pressure.

Treatment

The only way to prevent a milk allergy from occurring is to avoid milk and milk products completely. Since milk is a very common ingredient and is used in a lot of different foods, it is best to check the labels behind all processed foods that you purchase. The only other milk allergy treatment is antihistamines that can control the symptoms of the allergy. In the event you consume milk or milk products accidentally, you may have to take the medication immediately. So if you are eating out, make sure that you keep your medications with you. If you are prone to developing severe reactions, you may have to carry epinephrine shots with you. Allergy shots have not proven very useful and therefore are not a common treatment.

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