I’m Lactose Intolerant. Does That Mean I’m Allergic to Dairy?

If indulging in an ice cream cone has ever had you racing to the nearest restroom, you are familiar with lactose intolerance.

That gassy, bloated gurgling stomach is your body’s way of telling you that dairy is not your friend. But what constitutes an allergy versus just an intolerance?

Lactose Intolerance and a dairy allergy have some similar symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Gas

  • Bloating

While that can be confusing, the difference occurs in which of the body’s system is affected when dairy is consumed. An intolerance is an issue with the digestive system, while an allergy is an immune response.

Below are the differences between an allergy and an intolerance:


Lactose Intolerance means that the body is not producing enough lactase. Lactase is responsible for the breakdown of lactose, which is the sugar in milk.

Undigested lactose moves to the colon where it is broken down by bacteria. This results in the uncomfortable gas and bloating.

Lactose intolerance can manifest at any point during your lifetime. It can be genetic, or it can be caused by damage to the small intestine from a bacterial or viral infection.

The symptoms of intolerance generally subside on their own. Treatment consists of limiting or avoiding dairy and sometimes taking a supplement that helps you digest properly.


A dairy allergy is an immune response. When you are allergic to dairy, your body reacts to the proteins in milk as foreign bodies and rejects them. This results in an allergic reaction.

An allergic reaction can result in the symptoms described earlier as well as:

  • Rash

  • Trouble breathing

  • Swelling of the throat

  • Hives

  • Loss of consciousness

A dairy allergy is typically diagnosed early in life. If you have an allergy, your doctor will caution you to avoid all dairy products and likely equip you with medication, such as epinephrine, in case of emergency.

If you experience any of the above symptoms after ingesting dairy, you should seek immediate medical attention. Be sure to follow up with your primary care doctor so you can discuss how to move forward.

Intolerance or Allergy? Get Tested

The only way to truly know whether you are dealing with an allergy or an intolerance is to get tested. An allergist can perform a few tests to determine whether you are allergic.

A skin test is performed by pricking the skin to expose it to a small amount of the proteins found in milk. A raised bump (or hive) indicates the possibility of an allergy.

A blood test can determine your immune system’s response to milk by measuring the amount of immunoglobulin E antibodies.

Neither skin nor blood tests are completely accurate to diagnose dairy allergy. If your doctor cannot confirm by these methods, he may administer an oral challenge. An oral challenge is a test during which you are fed different foods that may or may not contain milk products in increasing amounts to see if you react to the ones that contain milk. This should only be done by an allergist, who is experiences in dealing with serious reactions.

Allergy Testing & Treatment in Mississippi

Food allergies are uncomfortable and, at times, dangerous. The fear of a reaction can keep you from enjoying activities such as going out to dinner with friends and family. At Mississippi Asthma & Allergy Clinic (MSAAC), our caring and knowledgeable staff can walk you through the allergy diagnosis and treatment process. We use many methods of testing to pinpoint your specific allergies and intolerances, including skin, patch, and blood testing as well as oral challenge. After a diagnosis has been reached we will help you learn to manage your allergy with medication or tips for eating out. Schedule an appointment today!