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Are lactose intolerance, dairy intolerance, and dairy allergy the same?

The long and short of it is, no. Despite being quite different (especially in how they affect the body), the terminology used for allergies and intolerances is frequently applied interchangeably. Subsequently, they require specific testing methods.

How are they tested?

While a milk allergy and a milk intolerance are immune-mediated requiring blood allergy testing or intolerance testing, lactose intolerance is enzyme-mediated meaning symptoms occur due to an insufficiency of the enzyme lactase and in this case, a breath test is required.

In milk allergy testing and milk intolerance testing, your blood is tested for antibodies, IgE and IgG respectively, which your body creates against the proteins in the milk.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down the sugar element, lactose, in the milk due to an insufficiency of the enzyme lactase. This results in the production of hydrogen and methane gases. These are exhaled and levels can be tested to identify the condition.

What are the symptoms?

All three conditions can result in potentially debilitating symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhoea. But it’s milk allergy that has the potential to be life-threatening.

In most people, allergies result in symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, swelling of the lips/mouth, itchy lips/mouth or vomiting, but for some, they can be as severe as an anaphylactic shock which can be fatal. If you suspect you or a family member has an allergy to milk then allergy testing is highly recommended, particularly if you, or they, also have asthma.

Living with Lactose Intolerance, Milk Intolerance or a Milk Allergy

The dietary implications of these conditions depend on which one you’re suffering from. With milk allergy, it’s recommended that you avoid all milk products on an on-going basis. In the case of milk intolerance, your results may indicate that you are intolerant to certain milk products but not others. For example, milk but not cheddar cheese.

This because of the varying levels of proteins and bacteria in different milk products. We’d recommend a 4-week initial elimination period. Following this, you may be able to successfully reintroduce the items, but this is highly individual, and many people choose to keep them out of their diet.

With lactose intolerance, it isn’t always necessary to remove all milk products, because certain milk products, such as aged hard cheese, butter or probiotic-rich plain yoghurt have very little lactose in them, but this depends upon the severity of your lactose intolerance.

To summarise the crucial differences in these conditions; milk allergy and milk intolerance produce antibodies against proteins in the food and can, therefore, be tested using IgE antibody allergy testing or IgG intolerance testing. Lactose intolerance is an insufficiency of the enzyme lactase resulting in the inability to break down the milk’s sugar and can be tested for via a breath test.

If you suspect your symptoms relate to a milk allergy or milk intolerance take a look at our range of Lifelab testing kits.

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