April 21, 2021

Milk Has Overtaken Nuts as the Most Severe Food Allergy

Most people know or know of, someone who has a nut allergy. They also understand that nut allergies can present very serious — even life-threatening — symptoms. What many don’t know is that milk allergy can produce symptoms that are as severe as, if not more severe than, those of nut allergies. 

A recent study of data on food-induced anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction) that caused children to be admitted to pediatric hospitals around the U.S. showed that severe symptoms were more often caused by milk than peanuts or tree nuts. Consequently, it’s important for parents in particular to be aware of the prevalence of milk allergies, what symptoms to look for, and what to do if a child or anyone has a serious reaction to milk or dairy. 

Milk Allergy Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

If you’re allergic to milk, your body’s immune system has an abnormal response to contact with milk or products that contain it. An allergic reaction to milk typically occurs soon after someone consumes it. Reactions range from mild to severe and can produce immediate symptoms including:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hives
  • Itching or tingling sensation around the mouth or lips
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Vomiting

Other symptoms may take longer to develop, including:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea 
  • Blood in the stools
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose

Babies may also develop colic. 

It’s important to note that milk allergy and lactose intolerance are not the same thing. Lactose intolerance doesn’t produce a response by the immune system, and its symptoms are mostly digestive — gas, bloating, and diarrhea. 

Diagnosing Milk Allergy

Diagnosing food allergies can be challenging. If you and your doctor suspect your child has milk allergy, you may be asked to answer questions about your child’s symptoms, bring your child in for a physical exam, keep a food diary for them, and eliminate milk from their diet for a period of time before adding it back in and watching for symptoms. 

Skin and blood tests can also be performed if appropriate. In a skin test, the skin is pricked and exposed to a small amount of the protein found in milk. If your child is allergic, a hive typically develops in that spot. In a blood test, the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies is measured to gauge the immune system’s response to milk. 

Treating Milk Allergy

There is no medication or other type of treatment for milk allergy. Avoidance of all milk and milk proteins is the only way to prevent a reaction. That can be difficult since milk is an ingredient in many foods. 

There are ways to address the symptoms of milk allergy. For mild reactions, taking an antihistamine can reduce symptoms. In the case of a severe reaction, an emergency injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) with an EpiPen or similar product and immediate transport to an emergency room is required.

New Thinking on Outgrowing Milk Allergy

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, between 2% and 3% of children under 3 years of age are allergic to milk. Experts used to believe that the vast majority of those kids would outgrow the allergy by the time they reached age 3. 

However, one study found that fewer than 20% actually had done so by age 4. And, while 80% of children with milk allergy will outgrow it before they turn 16, the takeaway from this more recent research is that it shouldn’t be assumed that kids have the “all clear” after their third birthday. 

Anyone who has ever seen a child—or any person—in the grip of a serious allergic reaction to milk knows that milk allergy is a condition that needs to be fully understood and carefully monitored by those who have it and their loved ones. 

Turn to Baptist Health for Care

Did you know that you can seek care at a Baptist Health Urgent Care Clinic for allergic conditions? We offer extended weekend and weekday availability and accept most insurance. With no appointment necessary, Baptist Health Urgent Care can be a great option when you’re in need of convenient medical services.

Learn More.