Cows’ Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance: Are they the same thing?
Many people believe that cows’ milk allergy and lactose intolerance are the same thing. After all, if you take a baby with tell-tale symptoms of one, dieticians quite often diagnose both as a precaution. However, they are very different conditions, affecting the body in different ways. Do you know the different between the two?
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is quite literally intolerance to lactose, a sugar found in animal milks and many foods. Our body digests this sugar using the lactase enzyme. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce enough of this enzyme, causing lactose to linger in the digest system, fermenting (think beer) and causing some rather unpleasant symptoms, such as flatulence, diarrhoea and bloating.
Many people each year actually misdiagnose themselves with lactose intolerance, or wrongly believe they may have passed it on to their children, which is unlikely in most cases.
Those who genuinely do suffer from lactose intolerance can manage their symptoms by avoiding foods containing it. Its not just dairy products; so many other foods also contain lactose in their make-up, and reading labels is a must when purchasing food. Now, there are lactose-free foods and drops that you can add to food to help break down the lactose entering the body. Some sufferers may need additional calcium supplements with vitamin D to help keep their bones strong, as they may lack because of their inability to take in dairy products containing calcium.
Lactose intolerance can occur at any point during life. Some babies may suffer it from birth, outgrowing it when their little bodies are more developed, where sometimes it may occur later into adulthood. Some people find they suffer lactose intolerance after a bout of illness, and it goes away once they have fully recovered.
What is cows’ milk allergy?
Cows’ milk allergy is an allergic reaction triggered by the proteins in the milk. It can cause a number of distressing symptoms, such as diarrhoea, bloating, colic, vomiting or reflux, constipation, eczema, or even ‘instant’ reactions such as rashes, swelling or wheezing.
Most of the people who suffer from cows’ milk allergy were diagnosed in infancy. It is more common among formula-fed babies due to formula milk being based upon cows’ milk, however there is an increasing prevalence among breastfed babies. While many sufferers will outgrow the allergy before they reach school age (4), and others by age six, some may suffer long into adulthood or for their entire life.
In babies, cows’ milk allergy is managed differently depending on the child’s age and their primary feeding method. Advice is usually for the mother to continue breastfeeding if she has been doing so due to the immense benefits of breast milk. Formula-fed babies sometimes need to have their formula reviewed by a dietician, who may prescribe a specialised milk (a form of medical nutrition) which can be either an ‘extensively hydrolysed formula’, where the milk proteins have been broken down making them easier to digest, or an amino-acid based formula, which is different again and is the proteins in a smaller form. At weaning age, it is recommended that all milk-containing foods are avoided, and then reintroduced at age one in the form of a ‘dairy challenge’ in a hospital environment.
Sometimes, cows’ milk allergy can occur in adults. Illness, stress, and many other factors can change the body and its tolerances. This is much less heard of although not completely rare.
As you can see, while some symptoms are similar, the actual cause and management of the two conditions are very different. If you think you or your child are suffering from either, please contact your doctor or for more advice visit specialist websites such as www.cowsmilkallergy.co.uk or www.nutricia.co.uk