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What is the Difference Between a Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance in Children?

Although it’s a staple for many children, milk isn’t always an appropriate addition to a child’s diet. Cow’s milk allergies are present in While about half of those children will outgrow their allergy by the age of 5 or 6, some must contend with the condition for their entire lives.. Both  milk allergy and lactose intolerance – may appear similar. Still, the biological mechanisms that cause each condition are wildly different, as are the impacts they can have on children. So, what’s the difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance in children? To find out, keep reading as the team at Cambrooke – makers of hypoallergenic formulas for milk allergies and intolerances – provides some answers.

Major Differences Between Milk Allergies and Lactose Intolerance in Children

For the safety and well-being of the children who suffer from them, it’s important to distinguish between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance, as management for each can vary greatly. First, let’s examine how each of these conditions works in the body:

How Milk Allergies Work

Like all food protein allergies, a milk allergy is the result of the body’s immune system overreacting to the presence of an otherwise harmless substance – in this case, the protein found in cow’s milk (which explains why this condition is also known as a cow’s milk protein allergy).

A cow’s milk allergy can manifest in one of two ways1, each of which tends to present unique symptoms: an allergic reaction involving the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE), which in some instances may lead to more severe symptoms (such as anaphylaxis) and takes effect more quickly, or

How Lactose Intolerances Work

By comparison, a lactose intolerance is generally a less severe condition than an allergy, as the symptoms tend to be milder. Lactose intolerance symptoms2 often take the form of digestive issues, including gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, and/or diarrhea. Whereas a milk allergy is the result of a reaction by the immune system, intolerances are caused by other factors in the body.

Lactose intolerance , the lack of which prevents a person from breaking down lactose – the sugar found in cow’s milk – properly. Symptom severity is dependent on quantity of lactose consumed. Symptoms tend to be worse after consuming larger amounts of lactose in a food or beverage.

Lactose intolerance can develop due to a primary intolerance- child is born without the lactase enzyme, secondary intolerance-caused by damage to the lining in the intestine or acquired intolerance-decrease in the enzyme with age. With all three causes of intolerance, diet adjustment in addition to enzyme supplementation is the recommended treatment.

How to Distinguish Between a Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance

Because of the symptomatic similarities presented by both milk allergies and intolerances, it can be next to impossible5 to differentiate between the two based on symptoms alone. Many children with non-IgE-mediated milk allergies present with diarrhea, cramps, or colic1, which could also be evidence of a  lactose intolerance.. However, if your child develops facial swelling, a rash, itchiness of the mouth or throat, or trouble breathing, it may be  a sign of an allergy. Seek medical attention right away if you notice any of these symptoms.

To draw a more definitive conclusion, your child’s doctor or allergist may recommend a number of assessment methods, which could include a skin prick test, blood test, oral food challenge, hydrogen breath test and/or elimination diet. When performed under the direct supervision of a medical expert, these diagnostic tools can provide evidence of either a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, allowing for a more precise and more helpful diagnosis of your child’s reaction to milk.

Management of a Milk Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance in Children

Due to the differing natures of milk allergies and lactose intolerance, management for each tend to take different forms. However, there is one option that those in either group might use: an elimination diet. At the direction of your pediatrician, you may need to remove all sources of cow’s milk from your child’s diet – or your own, if you’re breastfeeding – then, in some cases, reintroduce milk containing products and gauge your child’s reaction. If it is determined that your child is lactose intolerant, the addition of lactase enzyme supplements4 may allow your child  to tolerate dairy products, or the child may need to switch to low lactose or lactose-free foods and beverages.

In the case of an allergy, more significant measures may be required, such as removing all milk containing foods and beverages from your child’s diet and avoiding possible exposure in the long term. To this end, your doctor will likely recommend the use of a cow’s milk substitute that can safely provide the nutrition your child needs to thrive – especially the calcium, vitamin D, and protein found in cow’s milk. In many cases, one of the safest and most nutritious alternatives to cow’s milk is an amino acid-based formula, as these products don’t contain any milk proteins but offer a complete source of nutrition with the same benefits as traditional protein-based foods and drinks.

Amino Acid-Based Formulas Available

Whether your child has a milk allergy, intolerance, or any other type of food sensitivity, choosing an elemental formula made from amino acids can allow you to safely provide well-rounded nutrition without risking exposure to potentially harmful proteins. Cambrooke’s EquaCare Jr. and Essential Care Jr. formulas offer healthy, more affordable amino acid-based formula for children with milk allergies or intolerances. Learn more about each of these beneficial products by visiting us online today or calling 1-833-377-2773.