Center for Young Women's Health
General HealthHome > Health Guides by Topic > General Health & Development > Common Conditions > Milk Allergy

Milk Allergy


  • Milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance.
  • The protein in milk is what causes an allergic reaction.
  • Allergic reactions include hives, itching, and anaphylaxis.
  • If you are allergic to milk, plan ahead and carry an EpipenŽ.


Many people may think they are allergic to milk, but in reality, only 1-3% of infants are actually born with a milk allergy and most outgrow it by the time they are teenagers. Milk allergy is also sometimes confused with lactose intolerance, which is very different from milk allergy and is much more common.


What is milk allergy?

When a person has a milk allergy, their body's immune system has a bad reaction to one or more of the proteins found in cow's milk. Casein and whey are the most common milk-proteins that lead to milk allergy.


What are some of the symptoms caused by milk allergy?

A milk allergy can cause skin reactions such as swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, face, or throat. It can also cause hives, a rash or redness, and itchy skin or eyes. Respiratory problems such as sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, coughing or wheezing, and asthma can also result from milk allergy.


Can any of these symptoms be dangerous?

The most serious reaction to milk allergy is called anaphylaxis (an-uh-fa-lak-sis). Anaphylaxis happens suddenly and involves dangerous changes to your breathing, heart rate, and other body functions. Anaphylaxis also occurs when several different symptoms occur together, such as getting a rash and wheezing, or stomach pain and swelling of the throat. Anaphylaxis usually happens within seconds to minutes of exposure to an allergen and is life-threatening without emergency medical treatment.


If you or someone you know experiences anaphylaxis after coming into contact with a milk product, use the EpiPen® injector and call 911 right away! Because anaphylaxis to peanuts is unpredictable and potentially life-threatening, you must always carry your EpiPen® with you.


Is milk allergy the same as lactose intolerance?

No, milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance. Milk allergy is an allergic reaction to milk proteins, and lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the lactose sugar found in milk. The symptoms of lactose intolerance are usually diarrhea, cramping, and gas.


Who has milk allergy?

Milk allergy can affect people of all races and ethnic groups. Most people develop milk allergy when they are infants and outgrow their allergy as they get older. A small number of people do not outgrow milk allergy and remain allergic to milk as adults. Milk allergy does not usually develop later in life.


How can I tell if I am allergic to milk?

Your health care provider can help you figure out if you have milk allergy, or if your symptoms are from lactose intolerance. Finding out if you are truly allergic to a certain food can be hard. To make this task easier for you and your health care provider, it is a good idea to keep track of the following:

What can I do if I have milk allergy?

Plan ahead. Think about what you would do if you accidentally ate or drank a food that contained milk. Your health care provider can prescribe a drug called epinephrine that can stop the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and give you time to get to the hospital. You may have heard of an Epipen® which is the most commonly prescribed form of epinephrine. If you have severe reactions to milk, it is important for you to always carry an Epipen® or another form of epinephrine in case of emergency.


You should ask your health care provider when and how to use your Epipen® and what you should do after you use it. Most of the time, you should call 911 and be seen in a hospital emergency room for observation to make sure that your reaction has stopped.


What else should I do if I am allergic to milk?

  • Artificial butter flavor
  • Butter, butter fat, buttermilk
  • Casein - milk protein
  • Caseinates (ammonium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium)
  • Cheese, cottage cheese, curds
  • Cream
  • Custard, pudding
  • Ghee - clarified butter
  • Half and Half®
  • Hydrolysates (casein, milk protein, protein, whey, whey protein)
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Lactose - sugar in milk
  • Milk (derivative, protein, solids, malted, condensed, evaporated, dry, whole, low fat, non fat, skim, and LactaidTM Milk)
  • Non dairy creamer (check for casein)
  • Nougat
  • Rennet - used to curdle milk (may contain whey)
  • Sour cream
  • Sour cream solids
  • Whey - milk protein (delactosed, demineralized, protein concentrate)
  • Yogurt
  • Brown sugar flavoring
  • Caramel flavoring
  • Chocolate
  • High protein flour (protein source could be skim milk powder)
  • Lactic acid starter culture
  • Margarine (may contain whey)
  • Natural flavoring
  • Simplesse® (could be made from eggs or milk protein)
  • Calcium lactate
  • Calcium stearoyl lactylate
  • Cocoa butter
  • Cream of tartar
  • Lactic acid
  • Oleoresin
  • Sodium lactate
  • Sodium stearoyl lactylate


If you're allergic to milk, try not to get discouraged. Your health care provider can give you a prescription for epinephrine in case you do have an allergic reaction. As you learn more about your milk allergy, you'll know what foods to avoid and will be able to choose a variety of new foods to keep you healthy.


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 8/10/2012


Related Guides:

Lactose Intolerance

If you have lactose intolerance, your body may not be able to break down all the lactose that you eat or drink. People who are lactose intolerant have problems such as nausea, stomach cramps, gas, bloating, and diarrhea after they eat or drink milk or foods that contain lactose...

Search Our Site
Center for Young Women's Health Center for Young Women's Health Boston Children's Hospital Boston Children's Hospital
Photo of Peer Leaders Meet Our Peers
15 Years!