got milk?

A milk allergy is an intolerance for milk proteins which varies in severity, and often leads to the development of other allergies. From the time I was an infant until I was approximately 14 years of age, I had an incredibly severe form of milk allergy.

My mother had this to say regarding the appearance of my allergy when I was a baby: "I was ingesting milk products, which I later found out made the situation worse. When you were five weeks old, you were put into the hospital with "failure to thrive." They began giving you a milk based formula, which you proceeded to projectile vomit. This was because it was mostly cow's milk and not as easy on you as my breast milk, regardless of the fact that I was ingesting milk. Anything that had even minute traces of milk in it would bother you. You were not only allergic to milk, giving you the swollen face and other symptoms, you also couldn't digest it, which is why you would up being classified as an incredibly severe case."

Usually, milk allergies are first noted in infancy, when a child will not gain weight in response to a mother's breastmilk. Doctors often advise mothers whose infants aren't gaining weight to eliminate all milk and milk products from their diet. All other methods of testing usually will not be accurate so early in a child's life, so by process of elimination, the allergy is usually found.

In order to understand what contributes to milk allergies, it is important to examine the basic components of milk and how they will contribute to reactions against it.

Milk Proteins

Milk contains many proteins, however, there are two major component parts that cause allergic reactions.

  • whey: Responsible for the majority of milk allergies, whey comprises about 20% of the overall protein component in milk. It is made of alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactaglobulin, and will produce Immunoglobulin E antibodies. Allergies to the whey proteins can be determined by testing for the presence of these IgE antibodies, which will appear through both blood testing as well as skin prick testing. This protein is heat sensitive, and so someone allergic to this protein will possibly be able to tolerate boiled or evaporated milk.
  • casein: Comprising about 80% of the proteins in milk, casein is less likely to be the source of a milk allergy. It is the most important element found in cheese. This protein is stable in the presence of heat, so boiling milk is not likely to help in terms of allergic reactions. It might reduce the symptoms involved, but it will not eliminate them.

Types of Milk Allergies

The exact kinds of milk allergies will vary in terms of the symptoms that manifest as well as the causes of those symptoms. The main difference is the involvement of the immune system. When the immune system is involved, usually due to reactions mediated by IgE, the specific result is called cow's milk protein allergy (CMPA). Remember, this can be tested by looking for the presence of IgE in the blood or through reactions on the skin. When the immune system isn't involved, reactions are known as cow's milk protein intolerance (CMP). This difference is vital; it will determine the severity of the symptoms experienced by the individual.

There are various specific types of milk allergies. They are as follows:

  • Type 1: Within minutes of ingestion of small amounts of cow's milk, symptoms will develop. These are primarily skin related reactions such as a sudden appearance of the red skin bumps of eczema, or of hives. Also, runny noses, wheezing, and coughing may develop as well as diarrhea and vomiting. I had the Type 1 version of the milk allergy. Approximately 5 to 10 minutes after eating milk, I would be throwing up. Several minutes later, eczema would appear on my upper arms, from my elbow all the way up to my shoulder. I still have the small red scars from the outbreaks. Usually I was able to avoid reactions, but sometimes I would inadvertently eat something with milk in it (a hot dog made with milk proteins was one notable example). When I was tested to determine which type of allergy I was, the doctors told me they'd never seen one so severe; I literally couldn't be placed on the charts.
  • Type 2: Several hours after consuming cow's milk, symptoms will occur. In this case, it is usually vomiting and diarrhea. This type is less severe in both the duration and severity of the symptoms.
  • Type 3: Symptoms will occur after 24 hours of ingestion, and will only occur if large amounts of cow's milk have been consumed. This type of allergy is the norm in most human adults; nearly all individuals will react against large amounts of milk proteins. People with minor degrees of lactose intolerance are included in this category, which could probably apply to nearly anyone.

General Symptoms

The following symptoms are commonly associated with an allergy to milk:


Labels on food products are usually a jumbled mess unless you're familiar with the terminology. My mother had a horrible time trying to figure out what I could and couldn't eat based on them. Here is a list of food ingredients that you might see on labels that should be avoided if you or a member of your family is allergic to milk.

Living With Milk Allergies

I've learned to be extremely wary of food products since having my allergy, which is one effect of the experience that I'm grateful for. Milk proteins can be found where you least expect them to be: cereal, hotdogs, nearly any dessert pastry or cake, and many other unexpected places. One of the most important things to remember is that since milk has to be eliminated from your diet, you absolutely must compensate for the loss of such vital nutrients as calcium, riboflavin and Vitamin D. This is especially important in children and in expecting mothers who will both need to build up stores of vitamins in their bodies. One of the main alternatives that my parents and I found was soy milk, something that is absolutely delicious, in this noder's opinion. In particular, we looked for bargins of bulk supplies of Edensoy soy milk as well as their various other milk substitute products. There is non-dairy cheese, ice cream, and many other substitutes.

Unfortunately, one of the main effects of a milk allergy is the development of other allergies, which may include one to soy proteins. Do not despair! There are still things that you can do. Another alternative to both milk and soy is rice milk. I tried this type of beverage as well, specifically that manufactured by Rice Dream. While not as yummy as soy milk, it is still a suitable and relatively tasty drink in place of milk. Rice Dream also makes a whole line of very good desserts that tasted wonderful but remained free of milk proteins. Also high on my recommendation list are products made by Tofutti; they make a wonderful non-dairy ice cream that was a huge favorite of mine when I was a child. All of the products I've mentioned were readily available in either supermarkets or health food stores.

Sources & Further Reading:

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