Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy – What is the Difference?

08.06.2015 22:42

There is a lot of confusion surrounding lactose intolerance and milk allergy. In fact, some of the symptoms of a milk allergy are similar to digestive problems. In contrast to a milk allergy, however, lactose intolerance is not an allergy – but a food intolerance.

1.    What is a milk allergy?

In individuals who suffer from a milk allergy (milk protein allergy), the body reacts allergically to the protein in the milk. As milk is ingested, the immune system identifies the proteins as foreign bodies and reacts with a defense mechanism. It produces antibodies, which in turn produce specific substances such as histamine. The result is physical discomfort. Over the course of a chronic allergy, the intestine is damaged and the absorption of nutrients is disturbed.  

About 1.6 to 2.8 % of all children under two are affected by a milk allergy. In many cases, however, the allergy disappears by the age of six.

2.    How can I recognize a milk allergy?

A milk allergy goes hand in hand with numerous symptoms. The skin can show a strong reaction (for example, neurodermatitis, inflammation or swelling), breathing can be affected (for example, through asthma or bronchitis, exhaustion or the like); and digestive problems can also occur. In some case, the psyche is also affected: Depression, insomnia, inner anxiety or developmental problems can occur.

3.    The most important differences between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance:

Milk Allergy

Lactose Intolerance

It is a disease that affects about 1.6 to 2.8 % of all children under the age of two.

It is neither an allergy nor a disease but rather a food intolerance that happens to be quite normal: About 75 % of all people across the globe are lactose intolerant.

Nursing (4 months minimum.) can reduce the risk significantly.

Taking precautionary measures is not possible as it is inherited or acquired through illness.

Symptoms can include respiratory problems, skin reactions, digestive problems or circulation problems.

Lactose intolerance manifests itself through digestive problems.

Symptoms can be prevented by strictly avoiding products containing cow’s milk.

Depending on the severity of the lactose intolerance, frequently products with low lactose content are tolerated.

Children can grow out of a milk allergy by school age.

Primary lactose intolerance lasts a lifetime.

Untreated, it can be life-threatening if allergens trigger an anaphylactic shock.

While it must be treated, it is not life-threatening.