What is a Milk Allergy?

If you have a food allergy then you already know the public doesn’t know a lot about food allergies and definitely doesn’t understand what a milk allergy is. This is changing as more people are developing allergies every year and much more research and understanding is happening. A few important things to know are that a milk allergy is not lactose intolerance, it only takes a very small amount of milk protein to cause a terrible allergic reaction, and a person can develop a milk allergy at any age not just as a child. I’ve done extensive research on what a milk allergy is, below is up-to-date information so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

The rest of this page is very informational and will tell you everything you need to know:

Milk Allergy:
What is it?
What Causes This?
How to Live with a Milk Allergy
What to Avoid on Ingredient Labels

What is it?

When people are allergic to milk, they are really allergic to the protein found in the cow’s milk. Cow’s milk contains over 25 different molecules. People are usually said to be allergic to two main proteins.

  • Casein: the part that is solid when milk curdles (this is in cheese)
  • Whey: the liquid part of milk

It’s important to realize these proteins are not only present in milk, but due to the food industry they’re also found in processed foods. The most commonly used milk protein by the food industry is casein.

When someone is allergic to milk and eats food that contains these proteins their body considers the proteins poison invading the body. The immune system then creates specific antibodies to attack the poison. These antibodies are called immunoglobulin E (IgE)  and they trigger the release of multiple chemicals to protect the body. One of these chemicals is histamine. The release of these chemicals cause a range of allergic signs and symptoms. Histamine is partly responsible for most allergic responses, including runny nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes, hives, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock.

Note: Milk allergy is not lactose intolerance. People confuse these two because they can have some of the same symptoms (like stomach pains or bloating). But the conditions are not related. Milk allergy is a problem involving the immune system and the digestive system, where lactose intolerance involves the digestive system only. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not produce the enzyme lactase needed to digest the sugar in milk. It is estimated that 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant to some degree. Symptoms occur within 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingesting milk and involve only the digestive system. Anyone with lactose intolerance should consider a milk-free diet to live healthy. Besides only baby calves should be drinking cow’s milk, not humans.


Everyone’s symptoms are unique, they are like fingerprints. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe. Most of the research and understanding about Milk Allergies are out of date. However, there is currently a lot of new research being done as food allergies have increased at an alarming rate in more recent years and are beginning to be better understood now.

Type ISymptoms usually occur within minutes after ingesting cow's milk.
Type IISymptoms usually appear several hours after drinking milk.
Type IIISymptoms usually kick in 6-24 hours after eating the food, peaks at 48 hours, and subsides 72-96 hours later.

Delayed food allergy reactions are believed to affect millions of people. It is the most under-diagnosed and hardest to detect. The test that provides the best result is for an individual to go off of milk protein completely and see if their symptoms disappear.


SkinItchy Skin, Red Rash, bumps or red flushed skin; Eczema; Hives; Itchy Palms, Itchy Feet, Itchy Ear Lobes; “Shiners” dark under eyes; Swelling of the Lips, Mouth, Tongue, Face, or Throat; Dermatographism.
RespiratoryRunny Nose / Congestion; Sneezing; Being "Stuffed Up"; Watery Eyes; Itchy Eyes; Coughing; Wheezing; Shortness of Breath; Recurrent “colds”; Sinusitis
DigestiveAbdominal Pain; Abdominal Cramps; Abdominal Bloating; Diarrhea; Gas; Nausea; Vomiting
BehavioralCurrent Research has identified milk allergies, including other food allergies, to have behavioral affects. Symptoms can be, but are not limited to: Irritability, Anxiety, Confusion, Concentration Problems, etc.
OtherIt's important to know these symptoms listed are only the most common. Any part of the body can be affected from mild to severe. Each person is unique to their symptoms and can usually pin-point them once they are off milk and reintroduce it. Other common symptoms include migraines, dizziness, light-headed, and fatigue.

People can have all or only some of these symptoms. Some people may have a very strong reaction called anaphylaxis. This severe allergic reaction causes swelling of the mouth, throat, and airways leading to the lungs, resulting in an inability to breathe. In addition, there is a dangerous drop in blood pressure, which can make someone dizzy or pass out and may quickly lead to shock and potentially be fatal. Note: If this happens, the person needs Epinephrine from an EpiPen right away.


There are two main tests that an allergist will perform when trying to diagnose a milk allergy. Then there is a main test that should be performed.

  • Skin Prick Test: They will prick your skin and expose a small amount of the proteins found in milk. If you’re allergic, you develop a raised bump (hive). Be aware that this type of test isn’t always accurate.
  • Blood test: A blood test can measure your immune system’s response to milk by measuring the amount of certain antibodies in your bloodstream, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. A blood sample is sent to a medical laboratory, where it can be tested for evidence of sensitivity to milk. Be aware this test isn’t always accurate in correctly identifying a milk allergy.

The main test for a milk allergy with accurate results (if done correctly) is an elimination diet. Many doctors are moving towards elimination diets as it can easily identify a negative effect to a food when the other tests often fail. Doctors and patients are usually pleased with this method since it’s free, highly effective, and tailored to the individual. The only challenge is making sure you completely eliminate milk protein for a good length of time to see results.

What Causes This?

What causes this? How does someone get an allergy to milk? Well………..no one knows! That’s right, their are millions of children and adults with food allergies and no one knows why. There are a lot of running theories out there, but no one really knows. The medical community is paying attention to food allergies more due to the increase in the last decade. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) states that there are more than 25 million Americans with food allergies. It’s important to realize not only kids can develop food allergies, adults can also and no one knows how or why.  Here is a list of some theories. I won’t go into detail as no one knows an exact cause and there could me multiple factors taking place.

    • Genetics: If there are allergies or asthma in your family chances are increased that you’ll also have an allergy.
    • The Hygiene Theory: It’s the theory that we keep everything too clean today and therefore our immune systems don’t have a lot of things to fight so they turn on ourselves.
    • Mother’s Diet during Pregnancy & While Breastfeeding or Child’s Diet Early On: It’s the idea that what the mom eats affects the child’s chances of developing food allergies. Also, what the child eats early on in life can affect if they develop food allergies.
    • Genetically Modified Food (GMO’s): Genetically modified crops (also known as GMOs) were introduced in the US in 1994. These crops are genetically modified to make them grow faster, bear more fruit or create their own insecticide. They are all over the grocery store and have been blamed for the increased rise of food allergies.
    • Stress, Leaky Gut Syndrome, Over Exposure to the Food….

How to Live with a Milk Allergy

I wish I could say it was going to be easy, but it’s not, it’s extremely hard. I would say avoiding milk protein and finding other food to eat is kinda hard but dealing with the social aspect and people in society when having a milk allergy, this is Extremely difficult and will drastically affect your life. This is why I created this website and I hope it will help you in dealing with the every day situations you will encounter. I would offer what I think is the two most important things: first figure out what ingredients to avoid in your food (reading labels will become 2nd nature and normal to you) and most important is to find a support person/group/etc. Majority of people have found blogs and internet community help to be extremely beneficial.

Learning what to read on an ingredient label will seem overwhelming at first but this will become easy to you. The first thing I always check when looking at an ingredient list is directly below the  list to see if it says Contains: Milk. By law the food industry must label ingredients in food that contain the 8 most common allergies, which includes milk ingredients and they usually will directly state if contains: milk.

What to Avoid on Ingredient Labels:

      • Milk: in all forms, including condensed, dry, evaporated, and powdered milk, and milk from mammals (such as goat or sheep)
      • Casein and casein hydrosylates
      • Caseinates (such as sodium caseinate)
      • Whey
      • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin and lactulose
      • Butter: including butter, butter fat, butter oil, artificial butter flavor
      • Buttermilk
      • Cheese and cream cheese
      • Cream, half & half, and ice cream
      • Cottage cheese and curds
      • Custard, pudding and yogurt
      • Ghee
      • Sour cream, sour milk
      • Note: a lot of packages will says May Contain Milk even though it didn’t have a milk protein ingredient in the list. This is strictly so the food industry can cover itself and not have to clean lines in the plant where food was made and not have to be allergy safe. So cross-contamination is a possibility with these foods.

These Ingredients MAY contain milk protein (50/50 chance):

      • Carmel or Caramel Coloring
      • Natural Flavor
      • Artificial Flavor
      • Chocolate
      • High protein flour
      • Hot Dogs
      • Luncheon Meat
      • Margarine
      • Sausage
      • Avoid “deli” meats, because the slicers frequently are used to cut both meat and cheese products. Also, some deli meats contain dairy products.
      • Lactic Acid Starter Culture (found in most beef jerky)
      • Note: this list does not contain everything that may contain milk protein only the main items to watch out for.

These Ingredients DO NOT contain milk protein:

    • Calcium lactate
    • Calcuium stearoyl lactylate
    • Cocoa butter
    • Cream of tartar
    • Lactic acid (however, lactic acid starter culture may contain milk)
    • Oleoresin
    • Sodium lactate
    • Sodium stearoyl lactylate
    • Peanut Butter

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