Cow milk allergy or lactose intolerance?

Cow milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies children experience before the age of three. Its symptoms are usually confused with lactose intolerance but they are indeed two different things.

Cow milk allergy is the body’s reaction to the protein in a cow’s milk. The immune system tries to fight of the protein by releasing chemicals which trigger the allergic reaction. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, happens when the body fails to produce the lactase enzyme to digest the lactose ( sugar) in milk.

Since CMA affects the immune system, the symptoms are serious and the only way to prevent it is by avoiding any food that contains cow milk even if it is a small amount. The most common symptoms are

  • Vomit/reflux
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Itchy rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Crying and restless sleep.

Symptoms for lactose intolerance are not life threatening but still stressful for a child. When the lactose remains in the body without being digested, it creates gas and acid which causes bloated tummy, tummy ache and diarrhea among others. The discomfort is easily avoidable by providing lactose free milk or dairy products that have less lactose like yogurt.

Most children may outgrow both conditions after a few years but a child that was born lactose intolerant, will most likely live with it.  But until they outgrow, great care must be taken while preparing food. You have to pay attention to detect the symptoms and know what you are dealing with.

Fortunately, there are allergy tests that are done to understand which condition your child has as well as multiple options to replace cow milk.


I am not a medical professional and speaking from personal experience only. Please advice your doctor if you notice any symptoms before doing anything.

This first appeared on The Standard on 5 March 2017

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