What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends you should speak to your doctor or specialist about the benefits and safety of allergen immunotherapy or before attempting any allergy testing or treatment. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Follow the links under to discover trusted information about allergic reactions to cow’s milk.


Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy(Anaphylaxis), Sydney Children’s Hospital Network(Allergy — Milk allergy and milk free diet), Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy(Cow’s milk (dairy) allergy), Choosing Wisely(Recommendations)

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Last reviewed: October 2018

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Does my kid own a cow’s milk allergy?

If you are concerned your kid is reacting to cow’s milk or another food, it is significant to make certain you see a doctor.

In the meantime, keeping a food diary for your kid if they are weaned can prove extremely useful.

If you are breastfeeding your baby, it is still possible for them to react to cow’s milk through your milk. So if you are breastfeeding and concerned your kid is having a reaction, please see your doctor to discuss things further.

Cow’s milk protein allergy

Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is the most common food allergy in children. It affects around 5% of children under three. Most grow out of the condition by the time they attend school, and 50% by the time they are a year ancient.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

A true allergy to cow’s milk is fairly rare in older children and adults.

If your baby or kid appears to be developing symptoms after drinking cow’s milk, it is far more likely that they own CMPA than lactose intolerance. Symptoms may happen rapidly in some children (immediate reactions) or can take hours or even days to develop (delayed reactions).

Immediate reactions are fairly simple to identify as they develop soon after cow’s milk has been consumed. If your kid develops rashes, sneezing, running eyes, hives or vomiting soon after drinking cow’s milk, this can propose an allergy.

Formula milk is made from cow’s milk, and your baby can react to cow’s milk from your breast milk if you eat or drink any dairy products while breastfeeding. This means an allergy to cow’s milk can happen both in formula and breastfed babies.


If you or your kid ever own a rapid reaction that causes lip swelling or breathing problems, this is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment. Call 999.

Immediate allergic reactions to cow’s milk, such as hives or running eyes are know as IGE mediated reactions.

This type of reaction is far less common than delayed reactions to cows milk (non IgE).

Delayed (non IGE) reactions can be harder to pick up because they can take hours or even days to develop after drinking cow’s milk — especially for babies, who drink milk several times a day. Symptoms to glance for in your kid can include skin problems (such as eczema), acid reflux, vomiting or diarrhoea.

Babies or children with CMPA may also suffer from poor weight acquire or struggle to feed. They are also often described as ‘fussy’ babies.

Managing the condition

Once CMPA or lactose intolerance has been diagnosed, you may be offered advice on how to manage the condition.

This may include tips from a dietician on alternatives to cow’s milk formulas and how to avoid it in processed foods. You may also need advice on avoiding foods that contain cow’s milk in your own diet if you are breastfeeding.

Cow’s milk allergy

The best way to manage cow’s milk protein allergy is to completely remove every dairy products from your baby or child’s feed. (or your own if you are breastfeeding) .Please seek advice from a healthcare professional before making large changes to your own or your child’s diet.

It’s worth reading the cow’s milk allergy information on Allergy UK too.

Most milk substitutes from the supermarket are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years, so non-breastfed babies would need a specialist formula. These formulas can be made avaiable from your GP, and form two main groups. Hydrolysed formulas are made by breaking the protein in cow’s milk protein below into smaller pieces, making it less likely to cause an allergic reaction. This is the standard treatment for infants with cow’s milk allergy in the UK.

For children who are more severely allergic, amino acid formulas which are broken below even further, making them less likely to cause a reaction, can be used. Soya milk formulas are not generally advised for extremely young children with CMPA.

Certain milk alternatives (for example, rice milk) should be avoided in older children as well (up to the age of 5 years) so please enquire your doctor or dietician for guidance. There are numerous dairy-free alternative milks available now, including soya, coconut, and almond milks.

Most of these products are available in forms that are fortified with calcium and vitamins to make them nutritionally more similar to cow’s milk.

Lactose intolerance

Today, lactose-free milk and other dairy products are available in most major supermarkets. This is grand for those with lactose intolerance, as there are fewer dietary restrictions than there used to be.

Currently there is a potential treatment for lactose intolerance undergoing clinical trials. The medication is called RP-G28 and could potentially reverse the condition, meaning that foods containing lactose would no longer need to be avoided by those with an intolerance.

The research looks promising but far more research is needed before such a medication will be available in the pharmacy.

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Who gets a milk allergy?

In this article, milk refers specifically to cow’s milk and not to other types of milk such as soymilk, rice milk, goat’s milk, etc., unless otherwise specified.

Milk is one of the most common food allergens. An allergen is a food that causes an allergic reaction, such as hives, swelling, and trouble breathing. Although a milk allergy occurs most often in young children, it can appear at any age.

The allergic reaction can be triggered by milk-containing foods that had been previously eaten without any problems.

A milk allergy can develop in both formula-fed and breastfed infants. Some infants own a type of cow’s milk allergy commonly referred to as “cow’s milk protein allergy,” which causes blood in the stool. Other infants own an allergic reaction that includes immediate symptoms, such as hives and vomiting. In both cases, numerous infants will outgrow the symptoms during childhood.

A milk allergy is not the same thing as lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in numerous dairy products.

This leads to bloating and diarrhea after eating or drinking lactose-containing foods. Lactose intolerance is unusual in infants and young children and is more common in adults.

What are the symptoms of a milk allergy?

Allergic reactions to foods generally start within minutes of eating the allergen-containing food though may happen up to 2-3 hours after ingestion. The severity of symptoms can vary widely from one person to another.

Mild symptoms may include itching and a few hives while a severe allergic reaction may include life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing and sudden drop in blood pressure. The symptoms of an allergic reaction may include any or several of the following:

Other things to hold in mind if you or a loves one has milk allergy:

  1. Less commonly, some people with cow’s milk allergy may own a reaction after eating beef.
  2. History of a mild reaction does not mean a subsequent reaction will also be mild.
  3. Many people allergic to cow’s milk may not tolerate milk from other mammals, such as milk of goats or sheep.
  4. History of a severe reaction does put you at risk for a subsequent severe reaction.

Your doctor can make recommendations on alternatives to milk based on your child’s age.

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Allergy to cow’s milk is one of the most common food allergies in childhood and affects about 1-2% of preschool children. Most children grow out of it by the age of 3-5 years — less than 0.1% of school age children own cow’s milk allergy. True allergy to cow’s milk is rare in adults.

Cow’s milk allergy is often due to an immune system reaction against milk proteins.

Exposure to even a trace quantity of milk protein can be a problem for someone with milk protein allergy.

Symptoms of allergy to cow’s milk may include a rash (eczema or hives), swelling, abdominal pain or vomiting, diarrhoea or breathing difficulties.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction and requires immediate treatment. Symptoms include difficulty/noisy breathing and swelling of the tongue. If you ponder someone is having an allergic reaction, seek medical advice urgently as symptoms can worsen rapidly. If breathing is affected, call triple zero (000).

Diagnosis of cow’s milk allergy is often obvious when symptoms happen within minutes of exposure.

Skin prick allergen tests from your doctor may also assist.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

When symptoms are delayed, cow’s milk allergy can be harder to diagnose.

Lactose in cow’s milk is a problem for people who lack the enzyme lactose, but this is diverse to cow’s milk allergy.

Lactose intolerance and cow's milk allergy often get mixed up. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of an enzyme that helps you to digest the sugar in milk. Cow’s milk allergy, on the other hand, is an adverse immune reaction to proteins found in milk. They are completely unrelated conditions except that they share a common cause – cow’s milk and dairy products.

After returning from the Beagle expedition in 1836, Charles Darwin wrote: "I own had a bad spell.

Vomiting every day for eleven days, and some days after every meal."

Darwin struggled for more than 40 years with endless bouts of vomiting, stomach cramps, headaches, severe tiredness, skin problems, and depression. Researchers now ponder that he had lactose intolerance, and his case is a excellent example of how easily it can be missed or misdiagnosed.

Ditching lactose

The treatment for lactose intolerance is straightforward: avoid lactose. It means cutting out every cow's milk, and other dairy foods and checking labels as lactose is added to numerous unlikely foods, including bread, breakfast cereals, salad cream, mayonnaise, biscuits, chocolate, cake, crisps, instant soup and some processed meats, such as sliced ham.

The expression 'lactose' will not necessarily be listed on food labels so glance out for things love dried milk or whey powder.

Lactose is also used as a filler in numerous types of medication and while this may not trigger symptoms in most people with lactose intolerance, it can cause problems in some. Check with your doctor and request lactose-free tablets.

Developing allergies

Although a lot of food allergies start in childhood, you can develop them as an adult, too.

Cow's milk allergy in adults is relatively rare, but symptoms tend to be much more severe than in children when they do happen, with reactions being triggered by amounts as low as 0.3 milligrams of cow's milk protein.

The most severe type of allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock) may involve difficulty in breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and ultimately heart failure and death.

Occasionally, cow's milk allergy can cause severe symptoms that come on suddenly, such as swelling in the mouth or throat, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.

In such cases, immediate medical assist must be sought.

Lactase and weaning

Everyone naturally produces lactase when they are babies – without it we couldn't drink our mother's milk. However, every mammals and the vast majority of people stop producing it soon after weaning – for us, around the age of two. This is the normal state for most people – around 70 percent of the world's population, in fact.

In Northern Central Europe, lactose intolerance affects between two and 20 percent of people, rising to 40 percent in Mediterranean countries – most common in Italy where it affects 56-70 percent in some regions.

Highest rates are seen in Africa, where it affects 65-75 percent of people, and Asia, where more than 90 percent of people are lactose intolerant.

Cow's milk allergy

Cow's milk allergy is extremely diverse to lactose intolerance.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

An allergic reaction is when the body's immune system launches an inappropriate response to substances mistakenly perceived as a threat.

Common triggers include latex, detergent, dust, pollen or certain proteins in food. In cow's milk, it is the protein casein that causes most problems, but whey protein can also trigger a reaction in some people.

General symptoms include inflammation, sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and so on, giving rise to the classic allergies – asthma, eczema, hay fever, and urticaria (skin rash or hives). Because cow's milk allergy is linked to numerous conditions – including asthma and eczema – it's always useful to consider it when treating them.

Lactase persistence

So why are some people capable to digest lactose after weaning and others not?

'Lactase persistence' originates from a genetic mutation that occurred among a little number of European and African pastoral tribes within the final 5,000-10,000 years – in evolutionary terms, this is extremely recent history.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

It provided a selective advantage to populations using dairy products, enabling them to live endless enough to own children. The average life expectancy was probably little more than 25 years, but this meant the ability to digest lactose could be passed on to subsequent generations.

Descendants of these people are still capable to consume cow's milk without suffering the symptoms of lactose intolerance. It doesn't mean, however, that it's excellent for them.

What is lactose intolerance?

This is 'lactose intolerance', and most symptoms result from the production of gases and toxins by these gut bacteria.

Symptoms include a bloated and painful stomach, wind, diarrhea, and, on some occasions, nausea and vomiting.

Other symptoms can include muscle and joint pain, headaches, dizziness, lethargy, difficulty with short-term memory, mouth ulcers, allergies, irregular heartbeat, sore throat, increased need to pass urine, acne, and depression.

Even more worrying is that the toxins produced by bacteria may frolic a key role in diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and some cancers.

Not excellent for kids

Regardless of these problems, it's simply not a excellent thought to give cow's milk to children at every as it contains virtually no iron but does contain potent inhibitors, reducing the body's ability to absorb iron from other foods in the diet.

The high protein, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and chloride content of cow's milk present what is called a 'high renal solute load'.

Unabsorbed solutes from the diet must be excreted by the kidneys and this can put a strain on immature kidneys, forcing them to draw water from the body thus increasing the risk of dehydration. This is why most health bodies tell that cow's milk should not be given to children under 12 months of age.

What is lactose?

Lactose is the sugar in mammal's milk.

In order to release its energy, it must be broken below into its constituent simple sugars – glucose and galactose – so they can be absorbed. This task falls to an enzyme called lactase, produced by cells lining our little intestines

If your body doesn't produce this enzyme, then lactose travels to the large intestine where it is fermented by gut bacteria, producing hydrogen and a range of potential toxins.

Common allergy

Cow's milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children, affecting between two and 7.5 percent of infants under one, although some grow out of it by the age of five.

Symptoms include an itchy rash or swelling, stomach ache, vomiting, colic, diarrhea or constipation, and a runny nose.

Symptoms can appear almost immediately or up to 72 hours after consuming cow's milk protein. This makes it hard to diagnose.

A large problem affecting infants can be gastrointestinal bleeding resulting from cow's milk allergy. Blood loss often occurs in such little quantities that it goes unnoticed but over time can cause iron-deficiency anemia.

Scientists propose that blood loss associated with cow's milk consumption during infancy may affect 40 percent of otherwise healthy infants.

Exactly how cow's milk causes blood loss from the intestines is unclear but it's generally agreed that it is probably an adverse immune (allergic) reaction.

However, because healthy infants lose some blood anyway and cow's milk-induced bleeding is clinically silent and shows no other symptoms, it's hard to tell how numerous more infants than the widely accepted figure of less than 10 percent may actually be allergic to cow's milk.

Avoiding cow's milk

The only dependable treatment for cow's milk allergy is to avoid every cow's milk and dairy products, including milk, milk powder, milky drinks, cheese, butter, margarine, yogurt, cream, and ice-cream.

Products with hidden milk content should also be avoided – glance out for: casein, caseinates, hydrolyzed casein, skimmed milk, skimmed milk powder, milk solids, non-fat milk, whey, and milk solids.

People with cow's milk allergy face a similar problem as those avoiding lactose – milk-based ingredients can be hard to avoid as they are commonly used in the production of so numerous foods. It can seem a daunting prospect, having to read the ingredients labels, but most supermarkets now produce product 'free-from' lists, and numerous own their own-label range.

There are even iPhone apps available now to assist you identify ingredients by scanning the product bar code.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

Soya ice creams, spreads and yogurts, and dairy-free cheeses are just some 'free-from' examples.

The calcium myth

It's a myth that people who avoid dairy miss out on calcium – there are numerous excellent non-dairy sources, including green leafy vegetables (spinach is a relatively poor source as it contains oxalate which binds calcium), dried fruits, nuts and seeds, calcium-set tofu and calcium-fortified soy milk. Remember, 70 percent of the world's population don't do dairy – so you're not alone.

Dairy consumption in the UK is in decline as the market for plant-based milks, vegan cheese, yogurt, and other alternatives is booming.

Whether you are lactose intolerant, allergic to cow's milk protein, or simply desire to cut out dairy for health reasons, the animals or the environment, there's never been a better time to go dairy-free.

Going vegan has never been easier, there are vegan foods labeled as such in every major supermarket. Discover out how simple it is on Viva!'s website here 

Avoidance of milk or items containing milk products is the only way to manage a milk allergy.

People who are allergic to milk and the parents of children who own this allergy must read ingredient labels extremely carefully.

Milk is one of eight allergens with specific labeling requirements under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy in adults

That law requires manufacturers of packaged food products sold in the U.S. and containing milk as an ingredient to include the presence of milk or milk products, in clear language, on the ingredient label.

There are two main types of milk protein — casein and whey. Casein, the “solid” part of milk, comprises about 80 percent of milk protein. Whey proteins, found in the liquid part of milk, make up the other 20 percent. Milk proteins are found in numerous foods, including every dairy products, and in numerous places where they might not be expected.

For example, some canned tuna, sausage, meats and other nondairy products may contain casein. Beverage mixes and body-building and energy drinks commonly contain whey. Milk protein has also been found in some chewing gum.

Some companies may voluntarily include information that their food products “may contain traces of milk” or that they are manufactured in a facility that also processes milk, though such advisory statements are not required by law.

Allergies to food (including milk) are the most common causes of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

Symptoms include swelling of the airways, impairing the ability to breathe, and a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing dizziness and fainting. An allergist will advise patients with a food allergy to carry an auto-injector containing epinephrine (adrenaline), which is the only treatment for anaphylactic shock, and will teach the patient how to use it. If a kid has the allergy, teachers and caregivers should be made aware of his or her condition as well.

Some people with this allergy can tolerate foods containing milk that has been extensively heated, such as a baked muffin.

Still, people with an allergy to milk protein should consult an allergist before determining whether they should completely avoid milk and other dairy products.

Milk is a fairly simple ingredient to substitute in recipes. Most recipes calling for milk can be just as successful by substituting the equivalent in water, juice, or soy or rice milk. If your baby is allergic to milk, talk to your pediatrician about which formula to use. Often, an extensively hydrolyzed elemental formula or a casein-hydrolysate formula is recommended for milk allergy in infants, as the proteins in these formulas own been extensively broken below.

Alternatively, your infant’s doctor may recommend a soy-based formula.

Allergy or intolerance?

An allergy is when the immune system overreacts to a specific food, in this case, cow’s milk. Because the immune system is affected, it can cause a wide range of symptoms that can happen in a number of diverse parts of the body.

But an intolerance is diverse to an allergy. It simply means that the body cannot deal with something that has been eaten (in this case lactose — the sugar found in milk) in some way.

Generally an intolerance only causes symptoms within the gut, such as bloating and diarrhoea.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance happens when your body can’t break below the sugar found in milk properly. This causes mainly gut symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and cramps. It is actually extremely rare for a baby to be born with a lactose intolerance, although some may develop it after a vomiting or diarrhoeal illness.