It describes many of us: Every time you drink milk or consume something which is considered a dairy product, you feel ill. Sometimes, you feel bloated, have diarrhea, and have abdominal pain.
Most people with these symptoms assume they are lactose intolerant. But how can you tell whether your uncomfortable symptoms are due to a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance?
Let’s talk about how to tell the difference, and where you can go in the Cleveland area to get outstanding gastroenterology help.
What Is a Dairy Allergy?
A dairy allergy is due to one of two types of responses by your immune system to the introduction of an allergen. One response can cause a more severe physical reaction than the other.
In the severe type of dairy allergic response, your body produces an antibody called IgE (immunoglobulin E) that releases chemicals meant to eliminate the allergen. In any kind of allergy, your body misinterprets a substance as a foreign invader and overreacts to it, causing the allergic reaction.
Everyone has a small amount of IgE in their body, but if you have an allergy, your IgE elevates as your immune system goes to work. An IgE level above 0.35 IgE kU/L shows a likelihood of an allergy, and above 0.7 is a strong likelihood.
The chemicals released during an allergic reaction are histamine and cytokine, which cause your symptoms. A severe reaction can cause what is called anaphylactic shock. Because these symptoms can be life-threatening, it is essential to seek medical help immediately.
Signs of an anaphylactic reaction are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- Feelings of tightness in your throat
- Itchy mouth or throat
- Facial flushing
- Shock symptoms (rapid pulse, sudden skin rash, nausea)
The second type of response to a dairy allergy happens over the course of several hours. You may feel ill, bloated, and have diarrhea. Most of the symptoms are related to the gastrointestinal system.
The symptoms can be so similar that your doctor may mistake the dairy allergy as lactose intolerance. But if you have an elevated IgE level, this indicates it is truly an allergy.
There are several ways to test for an elevated IgE level. Your doctor may draw blood from your arm to check the IgE levels or perform a skin test to determine if you have an allergy.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance causes a response which only happens in the gastrointestinal system. If you are lactose intolerant, your IgE level will not be noticeably high, because your immune system is not creating antibodies to fight off the dairy.
Lactose intolerance happens because your body can’t digest the sugar in dairy products called lactose. What is happening is that your body doesn’t make enough of the enzyme which breaks down the sugar for use by your body. Instead, the dairy product stays in your intestinal tract and ferments – and this fermentation causes all the symptoms you can experience with lactose intolerance.
Symptoms usually occur within several hours after the ingestion of a dairy product. Signs might include:
- Increase in gas production
- Generalized feeling of illness
These symptoms will pass after several hours.
Dairy Allergies and Lactose Intolerance Doctors in Cleveland, Ohio
At North Shore Gastroenterology, our physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners will help you differentiate between the two reactions – and determine which kind you are experiencing yourself. If you are having a problem digesting dairy products, we are a lactose intolerance testing center near you whose medical staff you can trust.
If you have symptoms of anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately. But if your symptoms are less severe, call us at (440) 808-1212 to schedule a consultation or use our online request form.
Lactose intolerance is a nuisance, but a dairy allergy can be a much more severe issue. Our physicians and staff want to help you tell the difference so you can stay healthy. Call us today – we look forward to hearing from you!