What Is A Milk Protein Allergy?

A milk protein allergy, or a cow milk protein allergy (CMPA), is a food allergy in which a person’s immune system has a histamine response to the protein in a cow’s milk, though it can also be triggered by the milk of other animals, including goats and sheep. It is most common in infants and children. Unlike other food allergies, an allergy to cow milk protein can disappear over time.

CMPA is also distinct from lactose intolerance, though many people confuse the two. Lactose intolerance is caused by the lack of lactase in a patient and is not an allergic response. Lactose intolerance also only causes digestive symptoms, whereas a milk allergy causes respiratory and other symptoms as well.


IgE-Mediated Allergies

In IgE-mediated allergies, the body generates an immediate response to cow’s milk (within minutes or up to 2 hours) and begins to produce IgE antibodies. These antibodies then trigger the release of histamines which cause an allergic reaction. In rare cases, those with an IgE-mediated milk allergy may go into anaphylactic shock. Anyone experiencing anaphylaxis should seek immediate medical care.


Non-IgE-Mediated Allergies

In non-IgE-mediated allergies, the allergic reaction can take longer and may appear a few hours or even a few days after exposure to milk. Some patients may have a combination of both types of milk allergies.

Signs and Symptoms of Milk Allergies

  • Hives
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Facilisis magna etiam
  • Morbi tristique senectus
  • Diarrhea, with blood
  • Loose stools, with blood
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Colic (infants)
  • Runny, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Tingling or itchiness around the mouth
  • Swelling in the tongue, throat, or lips

Rare cases may involve anaphylaxis. Anyone experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, including difficulty breathing, an increased heart rate, or dizziness, should seek immediate medical attention.

Upset blonde woman with lactose intolerance holding glass of milk while sitting on sofa grabbing her belly

Milk Protein Allergy vs Milk Intolerance

Milk protein allergies are not the same as a milk intolerance. Those with a milk intolerance do not have enough of the enzyme lactase in their bodies, which limits their ability to break down the lactose in dairy products. This results in digestive distress and symptoms.

A milk protein allergy is very different and involves a histamine response triggered by the body’s immune system. This results in system-wide symptoms that can affect much more than just digestion.

Kefir, milk or Turkish Ayran drink are poured into a glass cu

What Causes Allergic Reactions To Milk?

As with all allergies, a milk allergy involves the body having a strong reaction to a trigger. In the case of a milk allergy, that trigger most commonly is the alpha S1 casein protein in the milk. The body reacts to this protein by releasing histamines. These histamines, in return, trigger an immune response in the body.

This immune response causes a variety of symptoms including respiratory symptoms, digestive troubles, and itchiness. The cause of a milk allergy is very different from the cause of lactose intolerance, which is triggered by the lack of the lactase enzyme in the body.

How Are Milk Protein Allergies Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a milk protein allergy is a multi-step process. Typically, it begins with a patient interview in which a doctor asks about family history and the patient’s exposure to allergens. The doctor will also conduct a physical exam. Finally, a doctor may also use either a skin test or a blood test to confirm a diagnosis of a milk protein allergy.

Doctor In Surgery Examining Baby Girl With Mother Smiling

Treatment Options For Milk Protein Allergies

There are a wide range of treatment options for those with milk protein allergies. The first line of defense is to avoid exposure to milk products. Milk proteins may be present in many foods beyond a glass of milk, including baked goods and processed foods. Consulting with a doctor can help patients avoid any foods that can trigger an allergic response.

If a patient is inadvertently exposed to milk proteins that trigger an allergy attack, then an antihistamine can help relieve the body’s allergic response. In extreme cases involving anaphylaxis, immediate medical attention or the administration of injectable epinephrine via an EpiPen is necessary.

Risk Factors Of Milk Protein Allergies

There are a number of risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing a milk protein allergy.

Family history of milk protein allergies

Patients with other allergies

Younger patients

Atopic Dermatitis

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Some Allergy-Safe Milk Alternatives?

What Are the Hidden Sources of Milk?

When Do People Start To Develop a Milk Protein Allergy?