How to Diagnose Milk Allergies

A milk allergy is essentially the same as any other, but is caused by milk or dairy products rather than dust, pollen, animal dander, or other common allergens. Common symptoms include:

Skin Reactions:
* Itchy red rash
* Hives
* Eczema
* Swelling of lips, mouth, tongue, face or throat
* Allergic “Shiners” (black eyes)

Stomach and Intestinal Reactions:
* Abdominal pain and bloating
* Diarrhea (usually very runny)
* Vomiting
* Gas
* Cramps

Nose, Throat and Lung Reactions:
* Runny Nose
* Sneezing
* Watery and/or Itchy eyes
* Coughing
* Wheezing
* Shortness of Breath

Lactose intolerance is sometimes mistaken for milk allergy. Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person lacks the enzyme to break down the sugar found in milk for proper digestion. This results in bloating, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Estimates are that up to 80 percent of African-Americans have lactose intolerance, as do many people of Mediterranean or Hispanic origin. It is quite different from the true allergic reaction that some people may have to the proteins in milk.

Food allergens, those parts of foods that cause allergic reactions, are usually proteins. Most of these allergens can still cause reactions even after they are cooked or have been digested in the intestines. Numerous food proteins have been studied to establish allergen content.

Recent studies indicate that the protein in cow’s milk is one of the most common food allergens. Since most of these allergens are heat resistant, heating or boiling the milk will not usually help. People who must avoid milk because of allergies should be sure to get adequate calcium and vitamin D in their diets. Good non-dairy sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, fish such as cod, mackerel, salmon and tuna; liver, and most fortified breakfast serials.

Diagnosing an allergy to milk may be easy if the person exhibits the same symptoms after eating or drinking a dairy product. However, the diagnosis can be complicated if the person is reacting to more than one food, there may be a time delay before the onset of symptoms, and many symptoms can have other causes than an allergy to milk. Allergies can cause different symptoms in different persons, and even with the same person, the symptoms can change from one occasion to the next. It is therefore important for a patient who believes that they are experiencing a food allergy to consult an Allergist or other qualified and experienced specialist who can determine whether the symptoms are indeed related to milk and milk products, or some other cause.

Specialists will try a number of methods to determine the source of the problem.

1. Physical Examination

The diagnosis starts with a complete physical examination followed by laboratory tests to exclude any medical condition not related to adverse reactions to foods.

2. Medical History

It is very important for the doctor to determine the medical history of the patient in order to ascertain the type and severity of the symptoms, to try to rule out any other medical cause of the symptoms, and to try to determine the identity of the problem food(s).

3. Family History

The family history is also important as allergies tend to run in families, so if one or more parents or siblings are allergic, even if with different symptoms to inhalant allergens, then this would increase the chance of the patient also being allergic.

4. Food Diary

Information on the personal food pattern is necessary and patients may be required to keep an accurate diary of foods eaten and symptoms experienced over a certain period.

5. Other Diagnostic Methods

* Skin Tests
* Blood Tests
* Elimination Diet (where suspect foods are avoided, then slowly reintroduced to the diet until the culprit is determined.)

In general, strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to prevent a reaction. Label reading is important for a person with food allergies. For example, cow’s milk can appear on labels as curds, whey, caseine or lactalbumin. One needs to learn the correct way to read food labels depending on his or her specific allergy. The help of a registered dietician can be helpful, but increased knowledge will help people control their allergies. If you suspect you may have a dairy allergy, it is important to consult a physician, as serious allergies can be fatal in certain extreme circumstances.

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