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Milk Allergy: All You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Jul 22, 2020

Milk Allergy: All You Need to Know

If you or your child experience stomach aches and a runny nose after consuming dairy, there is a chance you may have a milk allergy. Here are some quick facts that you ought to learn about milk allergies, from types and causes to milk allergy treatment. 

What is a Milk Allergy?

An immune reaction to one protein in animal milk is called a milk allergy. It is a common food allergy in children.

Allergic reactions usually happen after a child drinks milk. However, while cow’s milk is the typical cause of milk allergies, milk from other mammals like goat and sheep can also cause an allergic reaction.


Milk allergies are defined into two categories: 

  • IgE. An IgE-mediated allergic reaction usually happens immediately
  • Non-IgE mediated. Non-IgE mediated reactions can take as long as 48 hours to occur.  

IgE-Mediated Cow Milk Allergy

Symptoms, such as hives and diarrhea, can occur within a few minutes to two hours after consuming cow’s milk. Other symptoms include breathing difficulties and hay fever symptoms. In severe reactions, it could cause anaphylactic shock

Non-IgE Cow Milk Allergy

Symptoms of a non-IgE mediated cow milk allergy can appear 2 hours or several days after consuming cow’s milk. While symptoms can be similar to an IgE-mediated reaction, other symptoms can include eczema, constipation, and colic-like symptoms, among others.

Mixed Reaction

Babies who have a cow milk allergy could get mixed allergic reactions. They may have symptoms from both types and it can develop either immediately or after a few days. 

There are also some cases where a breastfeeding mother who consumes cow’s milk could cause allergic reactions in babies, typically very early on in their infancy. However, strong evidence suggests that breastfeeding could prevent allergies.

Other types of milk allergy

Peanut allergies are one of the most common allergies, so individuals may consider switching to alternatives like almond milk. However, some people may be allergic to nut milk as well if they try to switch from animal’s milk to cow’s milk.

It is important to understand how milk allergies affect the body so that you can seek proper diagnosis and milk allergy treatment.

Lactose Intolerance vs Dairy Allergy

Is Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance the Same?

While many people may assume that lactose intolerance and milk allergies are the same, they are two separate conditions. Your immune system may overreact when you consume dairy products, which could lead to an allergic reaction.

If you are lactose intolerant, you are deficient in lactase, which is an enzyme needed to metabolize lactose. Consuming dairy when you are lactose intolerant can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and abdominal gas.

It is estimated that around 2.5% of kids under 3 years old have a milk allergy and many of them tend to outgrow it. However, lactose intolerance can develop at any age.

Causes & Risks

The cause of milk allergies in people is unknown. However, researchers believe that a milk allergy could be genetic.

Additionally, other risk factors could increase your chances of getting a milk allergy. If a person has a family history with food allergies or currently has food allergies, they may be more likely to be allergic to milk.

People who have atopic dermatitis could also have a higher risk of developing a milk allergy. Atopic dermatitis is eczema, and it is a skin condition that causes itchy and red skin.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of a milk allergy can vary from person to person. Immediate symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Hives
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Itching around the mouth or lips

For slower reactions, symptoms can include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea/loose stools (potentially containing blood)

Another example of children’s milk allergy symptoms is colic.

As there is no cure to this condition, milk allergy treatment is primarily focused on prevention and treating its symptoms. 

Treatment & Prevention

How Do You Diagnose a Milk Allergy?

Going to a doctor is the ideal way to find out if someone has a milk allergy. Typically, doctors recommend that the patient keep a detailed food diary and try an elimination diet. They may also perform blood and/or skin tests. 

If the test results and examination cannot confirm the milk allergy, a doctor may administer the oral challenge. That may involve being fed foods that may or may not have milk in increasing amounts.

Allergy Skin Tests: How Do Doctors Check for Allergies?

How Do You Prevent Getting a Milk Allergy?

Since the cause of milk allergies is unknown, the prevention of milk allergies needs more research. Typically, medical professionals recommend milk allergy treatment of the symptoms and provide guidance on how to prevent an allergic reaction instead.

How Do You Manage a Milk Allergy?

Avoiding milk and milk products

For both children and adults, the ideal way to avoid getting an allergic reaction from milk is by not consuming milk or products that contain milk. Prevention is the ideal solution to treat a milk allergy.

However, it can be difficult since milk is a common ingredient in most foods and drinks. Although, there are cases where people who are allergic to milk can tolerate milk in certain forms.

For instance, processed milk like yogurt or heated milk in baked goods may be tolerable for some people.

It would be best to speak to a medical professional about what foods and drinks you may need to avoid.

Reading food labels

Reading food labels could also help prevent an allergic reaction. Not everything will say milk directly. Be on the lookout for casein, which is a milk derivative that is in unexpected food products, such as sausage or canned tuna.

Accidental consumption

However, if you or your child consume milk by accident, there are still treatment options available. For instance, mild allergic reactions could be managed or reduced by taking antihistamines. 

In rare cases, an allergic reaction to milk could cause anaphylactic shock, so they may need to go to the emergency room and get an epinephrine shot. You may be given injectable epinephrine by a doctor if you are at risk of experiencing severe reactions.

Key Takeaways

Milk allergies can be a common occurrence, especially in infants and children. Learning the facts about milk allergies can help you learn how to prevent the condition and treat symptoms appropriately.

Learn more about Allergies here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Jul 22, 2020

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