Although they can share similar symptoms, cows’ milk allergy and lactose intolerance are two completely different conditions. It is easy to confuse them but they affect the body in entirely different ways.
Food allergies, unlike intolerances, involve the immune system. Cows’ milk allergy is a food allergy, which means that the immune system overreacts to one or more proteins present in cows’ milk1. To avoid a food allergic reaction, it is important to avoid consuming the offending food protein.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugar which is called lactose3. It is due to a deficiency of the enzyme (lactase) that digests large amounts of lactose in the body. A food intolerance occurs in the digestive system and unlike food allergies, the immune system is not involved. Symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, or diarrhoea can be signs of lactose intolerance. The skin or the respiratory tract is not usually affected.
As with cows’ milk allergy, the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be managed by avoiding foods containing lactose. The main sources of lactose in the diet are usually cow’s milk and dairy products. To ensure adequate calcium and protein intake it is important to substitute these foods with calcium containing alternatives. Fortunately, lactose-free milk and dairy products are available in most supermarkets.
It is important to see your child’s healthcare professional if you are worried or not sure about your child’s symptoms.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugar which is called lactose. Food allergies, unlike intolerances, involve the immune system.
- ASCIA, 2016, Cow’s milk (dairy) allergy Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, viewed 10 May 2016, http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/cows-milk-dairy-allergy
- ASCIA, 2016, Food allergy or intolerance, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, viewed 10 May 2016 https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/allergy-anaphylaxis/food-allergy/food-allergy-or-intolerance
- Nutrition Australia, 2016, Lactose Intolerance, viewed 10 May 2016 http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/sites/default/files/Lactose%20Intolerance_0.pdf