Lactose Allergy

Information on the causes and symptoms of a lactose allergy.

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  1. What is Lactose Allergy?
  2. What Causes Lactose Allergy?
  3. Symptoms of Lactose Allergy
  4. Diagnosing Lactose Allergy
  5. Help for Lactose Allergy


What is Lactose Allergy?

Lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are sometimes confused. Allergies are an immune system response to dairy; lactose allergy or intolerance is the result of an enzyme deficiency. Those who are allergic to milk cannot consume dairy at all, but those with mild lactose intolerance can sometimes eat small amounts of dairy in extreme moderation.

What Causes Lactose Allergy

The body produces the enzyme lactase which is used to break down the lactose in milk into two simpler sugars that are then assimilated by the body. With age, the body produces less lactase, leading to difficulty digesting milk. Onset of lactose intolerance usually occurs in late adolescence or adulthood. It is rare, but not impossible, for infants and small children to have issues with lactose, but they may also suffer from dairy allergies.

Lactase deficiency can also be the result of other diseases like Chron's disease and Celiac disease, or as the result of an injury to the small intestine.

Symptoms of Lactose Allergy or Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is typically experienced as gastrointestinal upset and may include nausea, abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, excess gas, diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms range from mild to severe depending on the degree of intolerance. Most symptoms appear between 30 minutes to two hours from the time of consumption.

Diagnosing Lactose Allergy

Diagnosis is usually done by examining history and symptoms with your physician. If reducing or eliminating dairy doesn't provide immediate relief, the doctor may confirm the diagnosis with additional testing to rule out other possibilities.

During a lactose tolerance test, a high-lactose liquid is administered. The blood is tested two hours later to determine the amount of glucose in the blood stream. If blood-glucose levels don't rise, it indicates the body is not properly digesting and processing lactose. Another test that may be performed is a hydrogen breath test. A high-lactose liquid is given and then the breath is tested for larger than normal amounts of exhaled hydrogen, an indicator that lactose is not being properly digested and absorbed.

Help for Lactose Allergy

Dietary modification is recommended for those with lactose intolerance. Several dairy products on the market are specifically lactose free. In addition, supplementing with enzymes may help make digestion easier.

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