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Lactose Intolerance vs Dairy Allergy

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

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jun 10, 2021

Lactose Intolerance vs Dairy Allergy

When the topic of lactose intolerance versus dairy allergy comes up, people usually tend to get confused. After all, both are reactions to consuming dairy. For those not in the know, both conditions can seem pretty similar.

But the two are actually very different. In the case of a dairy allergy, it can even be fatal if the person has a severe enough allergy. But what exactly are the differences between lactose intolerance versus dairy allergy?

Lactose Intolerance Versus Dairy Allergy

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Let us first discuss what is lactose intolerance, since it is probably what more people are familiar with. Lactose intolerance, as the name implies, means that a person cannot tolerate or digest dairy products properly.

Lactose intolerance is a condition wherein the small intestine fails to produce an enzyme called lactase, which aids in breaking down lactose. It is a type of sugar that is contained in all dairy products. If the body fails to break down lactose, it can travel into the large intestine, where it starts to ferment and produce hydrogen as well as other toxins.

This causes discomfort and a bloated feeling associated with lactose intolerance.

People can be born with lactose intolerance, or in the case of young children, an infection of the digestive system may be responsible. This can mean that the symptoms can last only for a few weeks.

Milk Allergy: All You Need to Know

How About a Dairy Allergy?

On the other hand, a dairy allergy is much like other allergies that people have. It is a problem within a person’s immune system that causes the body to respond abnormally to dairy products.

Specifically, people with dairy allergies can have reactions to one of two proteins in milk. First is casein, which is a protein that causes milk to curdle. Second, they can be allergic to whey or the liquid part of milk that appears after it has curdled.

Dairy allergies are most common in children, and usually, kids tend to outgrow it as they grow up. However, people can have a dairy allergy for life, which means that they need to avoid dairy products in general.

Dairy allergies can also cause more adverse effects, since more severe cases can cause anaphylactic shock, which is a life-threatening condition. This is why knowing if you have lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy is important.

What Are Their Symptoms?

The symptoms of lactose intolerance versus dairy allergy have both similarities and big differences depending on how severe the reaction is. Here are some of the possible symptoms of each:

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Symptoms of a Dairy Allergy

  • Milder symptoms can exhibit the symptoms of lactose intolerance
  • Hives or red spots in the skin
  • Itching
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in the lips, tongue, and throat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, which may contain blood
  • Cramps
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • More severe cases can result in anaphylactic shock

Are There Forms of Treatment?

There is no specific cure for lactose intolerance at the moment, so what people with lactose intolerance usually do is manage their diet. By avoiding dairy products, or limiting their consumption to small amounts, they can best be able to prevent the symptoms of lactose intolerance from occurring.

There are also lactase supplements that are available over the counter, but these have not been approved for medical use. However, some people have claimed that they are effective in mitigating the effects of lactose intolerance.

In the case of a dairy allergy, the only way to deal with it would be to avoid dairy products in general. Since people with a dairy allergy can have a more severe reaction, they need to be extra careful when it comes to the food they eat.

If someone with a dairy allergy accidentally consumes dairy products, it would be best to give them antihistamine or take them to the hospital if the reaction is severe.

What Can You Do About It?

In general, the best way to avoid experiencing the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance and dairy allergy would be to avoid dairy products in general.

Here are some other steps that you can take to avoid having problems:

  • Certain types of medicines can contain products derived from dairy. It would be a good idea to check with your doctor first if you are taking a certain type of medication for the first time.
  • You can try eating dairy alternatives such as soy milk, and vegan cheese as a substitute for dairy. Dairy-free ice cream is also available in most stores.
  • Be sure to check the ingredients of the food products you buy, since some of them use dairy products for flavoring.
  • If you are completely avoiding dairy, then acquiring calcium might be a problem. Try to get it from alternative sources such as supplements, soybeans, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.

Lactose Intolerance Versus Dairy Allergy: Key Takeaways

When it comes to lactose intolerance versus dairy allergy, the important thing is to be aware of your symptoms. For the most part, the symptoms of lactose intolerance are limited to digestive problems. On the other hand, a dairy allergy can have more severe symptoms as well as itching and swelling in certain parts of the body.

It is also important to be careful of the food that you eat, and if you are unsure that it may or may not have dairy, it would be best to just avoid it completely.

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 Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jun 10, 2021

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