What’s the Difference Between Lactose Intolerance vs Dairy Allergy

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dairy allergy vs lactose intolerance

Dairy Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance

Milk and dairy products, in general, are excellent sources of calcium. In addition, they taste great too. However, some people can’t take them or have allergies to them. And that’s the focus of our discussion in this article. 

It’s easy to confuse lactose intolerance and dairy allergy. In fact, many people think they’re the same. With that in mind, learning their differences plays a significant role. The key to identifying them is understanding their signs and symptoms and the facts surrounding them. This blog post is perfect for you if you have a milk allergy or are lactose intolerant. 

So, let’s begin if you’re ready to learn the answers to “What’s the Difference Between Lactose Intolerance vs. Dairy Allergy?”

Understanding Lactose Intolerance

What is lactose intolerance? Is lactose intolerance an allergy? The answer is no. Lactose and milk intolerance occurs when you cannot digest foods or beverages containing lactose, such as dairy products. This happens when your body has reduced lactase enzyme production. 

There are 4 types of lactase deficiency. They are called primary lactase deficiency, secondary lactase deficiency, developmental lactase deficiency, and congenital lactase deficiency. Let’s talk about the details of each type of deficiency below.

1. Primary Lactase Deficiency

Studies say that primary lactase deficiency is present in 70–75% of adults worldwide. It is also known as lactase non-persistence. What’s more, primary lactase deficiency is inherited. People with this condition suffer from significant lactase decline and experience symptoms during adolescence or adulthood. 

2. Secondary Lactase Deficiency

Injury to the small intestines because of infections is the primary cause of this medical condition. Celiac disease or Chrons are possible reasons too. Doctors typically treat the root cause to improve dairy intolerance.

3. Developmental Lactase Deficiency

Premature infants are more at risk of developing this condition. It is because their lactase-producing cells develop late. As a result, they become lactose intolerant later in life.

4. Congenital Lactase Deficiency

As the name suggests, this health condition is inborn. Individuals with congenital lactase deficiency produce few enzymes from birth. In worse cases, no lactase enzymes are produced at all. 

Additional Information

Research reported that people with lactose intolerance could safely take up to 12 grams of dairy products. It equates to 1 cup of milk. What’s more, symptoms rarely occur within the amount mentioned. 

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Here’s a compilation of the symptoms of lactose intolerance as reported by medical experts.

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms in Adults

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Gas

Lactose Intolerance Treatment

The treatment of lactose intolerance focuses more on minimizing lactose consumption. Additionally, avoiding dairy products altogether is another effective option. 

On the other hand, the signs and symptoms are treated accordingly.

Understanding Dairy Allergy

Dairy allergy links to the immune system rather than the digestive system. In addition, dairy allergies are the most common cause of anaphylaxis. A dairy allergy occurs much like other allergies. Your immune system tries to neutralize proteins in milk and other dairy products, treating them as “invaders.” That’s when an allergic reaction occurs.

Symptoms of Dairy Allergy

Dairy allergy and lactose intolerance share common symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. On the contrary, they differ in the primary symptoms. Below are the signs and symptoms of dairy or milk allergies.

Dairy Allergy Symptom

  • Wheezing
  • Swelling (lips and face)
  • Tightness in throat
  • Dairy allergy rash in adults
  • Hives
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Anaphylaxis

Important Note on Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis could be fatal. It is a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Below are the symptoms that you should be aware of.

  • Anxiety and confusion 
  • Sweaty skin
  • Wheezing
  • Fainting spells or losing consciousness
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • breathing difficulties (fast, shallow breathing)
  • Lightheadedness

The best thing to do in helping a person experiencing an anaphylactic attack is to dial 911. You can also rush to the emergency room. Anaphylaxis is a severe condition that you should never take lightly. 

Dairy Allergy Treatment

Aside from minimizing dairy consumption or avoiding them entirely, medications are ideal for treating the symptoms of dairy allergies. Recognizing the signs of dairy allergy plays a crucial role. Here are some of the most efficient anti-allergy drugs. 


You can buy antihistamines over-the-counter in most pharmacies worldwide. They are inexpensive and efficient. There are 2 types of antihistamines: One of them makes you drowsy or sleepy, and the other has no such effect. The first subtype of antihistamines, called H-1 receptor antagonists or H-1 blockers, will make you tired, and the second subtype is called H-2 receptor antagonists or H-2 blockers.


These drugs help reduce the symptoms of dairy allergies like skin rash, redness, and swelling. Like antihistamines, corticosteroids act fast. It provides immediate relief.

Adrenaline Auto-Injectors (EpiPen) 

Doctors advise carrying an adrenaline auto-injector for individuals with known dairy allergies. These drugs are highly efficient and relatively safe in cases of an anaphylaxis attack. 

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are mild to moderate. Some lactose allergy symptoms go away naturally, while others are relieved by medications. On the contrary, some cases are more severe and require immediate medical care.



  • Consult your doctor when you experience anaphylaxis’s signs and symptoms
  • Prolonged symptoms even after medication
  • When the conditions become chronic

Don’t Let Lactose Intolerance and Dairy Allergy Get the Best of You


Learning the facts surrounding lactose intolerance and dairy allergy saves you the hassle of experiencing the symptoms. Moreover, getting safe and efficient treatment gives you peace of mind. Worry not. The allergists at Brazos Valley Allergy & Asthma Clinics got you covered.

We offer top-of-the-line allergy testing to provide accurate treatment based on your individual needs. Our services include allergen immunotherapy to help boost your immune system, protecting you from dairy allergy attacks. 

Our doctors are also prepared to provide quality treatment if you’re lactose intolerant. We aim to keep your health in tip-top condition at all times. 

Dr. Jantzi is a board-certified allergist and immunologist in the Brazos Valley area. He uses modern and conventional methods to provide you with the treatment you deserve. 

Dial 979-485-9287 to book an appointment. Check out our clinic locations here.

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