Milk Allergy

Also known as: dairy allergy

What is milk allergy?

Milk allergy occurs when your child’s body’s immune system (which normally helps fight infections) identifies certain cows milk proteins contained in many dairy products, as harmful, triggering an abnormal bodily overreaction. It’s common in infants and children. Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance.

What causes milk allergy? 

The body responds to the presence of milk proteins by producing an antibody (IgE) (different to those used to fight infections) which causes a chemical reaction which may go on to involve the whole body. Risk factors include; a family history of food allergy, the presence of other allergies, and eczema.

What are the symptoms of milk allergy?

Symptoms (which can vary widely) usually begin within a few minutes to hours (less than 2 hours) after drinking cow's milk or eating milk containing food. Common symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea (with or without blood)
  • itching
  • hives
  • eczema
  • tingling/swelling of lips/mouth
  • thirst
  • lung symptoms (like wheezing, tight chest, shortness of breath)
  • dizziness

A sudden, life-threatening reaction with blood pressure drop, fast heart rate and difficulty breathing (anaphylactic shock) may occur in severe instances.

What are milk allergy care options?

While there is no way to prevent milk allergy, avoiding milk and dairy products is the best way to prevent symptoms. Antihistamines may help to lessen the symptoms, and epinephrine injection (or Epi-Pen) is required to prevent the severe symptoms of anaphylaxis when this occurs. Other potential treatments (like immunotherapy) might be of benefit.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: May 06, 2021 09:59 AM

Pediatric Allergy & Immunology

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