Can You Develop an Allergy to Dairy at Any Age?

Anyone can develop an allergy at any age, although dairy allergy is most often diagnosed in children under age 3. Dairy allergy is different from lactose intolerance. Adults can have both lactose intolerance and dairy allergy, which could be one reason why some people confuse the two. Lactose intolerance causes digestive problems and becomes more common and severe with age. Dairy allergy symptoms are varied, and may increase in severity with age as well.

In addition to basic dairy, avoid processed snacks and crackers with dairy additives like whey and casein. (Image: karandaev/iStock/Getty Images)

Cause and Timing

The allergic reaction to dairy products comes from the body's immune response to the proteins in cow's milk. The body makes antibodies to the protein and releases histamines into the bloodstream. Symptoms from the release of histamines can occur within a few minutes of eating dairy protein, including watery eyes, coughing, sneezing and sinus congestion. Additional symptoms can emerge several hours later, including diarrhea, bloating, nausea, headache, and even disorientation and confusion. Breathing problems and confusion are very serious allergic reactions to milk protein.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Your body can have a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms if you have a dairy allergy. Nausea, cramps and bloating are associated with both lactose intolerance and dairy allergy. Diarrhea is also a common symptom. Dairy allergy can cause alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation, which probably result from stress on the digestive system.

Other Symptoms

Many people do not associate dairy allergy with respiratory and skin problems. The body's release of histamines and antibodies to dairy protein can cause a runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and wheezing, skin rashes and hives. Hives, coughing and wheezing and any type of swelling in the throat or mouth are very serious reactions. If you experience these reactions, you should contact your health provider immediately.

Avoiding Dairy

Reduce unwanted symptoms from allergic reactions to dairy products by avoiding foods containing dairy. Basic dairy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and butter all contain milk proteins, which cause the allergic reaction. Higher concentrations of milk protein can be found in commercial, processed foods, which can include powdered milk protein like whey. Other concentrated milk additives include casein and sodium caseinate. Read food labels carefully to identify and avoid dairy products.

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