Milk Allergy

Table of Contents


What Is A Milk Allergy?

A milk allergy is an adverse immune response to the proteins in cow’s milk. Milk proteins are found in many different processed foods. To be sure, you need to carefully check all food ingredient labels – all the time. This may be tedious and challenging, but our NYC allergists have provided lists below to help you identify products and ingredients that you may need to avoid.

Many consumers buy vegetarian products with the intention of avoiding allergic reactions to milk allergens. Unfortunately, this is not always a reliable assumption to make. For example, some vegetarian cheeses contain milk protein. In this case, the term “vegetarian” only means that the rennet used to manufacture the cheese is vegetable-based. Again, our NYC allergists recommend that you carefully check all food labels in order to be sure that you are not consuming a hidden milk allergen and risking a possible allergic reaction.

If you have a child that has a milk allergy, you might have considered hypoallergenic milk formulas. However, this term is also a little confusing. Some children react to a hypoallergenic formula, depending on the particular recipe and brand. If you are buying hypoallergenic milk formula and your child is still experiencing allergic reactions, you may consider a “complete protein hydrolysate formula.” Please see one of our allergy and asthma associates to discuss this further.

People with milk allergy or sensitivity can react to even very small amounts of milk proteins. For example, some patients have experienced a milk allergy reaction simply by breathing air that contains milk powder. These small amounts of allergens can also show up in foods that have been manufactured or processed on the same equipment as a milk product – this is called cross-contamination. For example, the deli may cut meat and cheese with the same slicer, or a plant may manufacture a soy-based protein powder on the same equipment as a milk-based powder. Even if strict cleaning procedures are followed, small amounts of protein can remain.

Milk Allergy Symptoms

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Milk allergy rash
  • Swelling of the lips and throat
  • Wheezing
  • Colic (in babies)
  • Trouble breathing

Symptoms of a milk allergy can range from mild to severe. An allergic reaction to milk involves the immune system’s response to its protein. Your immune system registers the protein as a harmful substance that evokes a painful reaction. Milk allergy symptoms should not be confused with milk intolerance symptoms which deal with the digestive system. Milk allergy symptoms affect more children than adults. About 2% of children under the age of 3 suffer from this allergy. However, most of these children will outgrow their allergy by age 5, while most lactose intolerant individuals will experience symptoms long term.

Most milk allergy symptoms occur immediately in adults; however, they can be delayed for hours. Babies with a milk allergy usually show symptoms days after first being exposed to milk. Milk is the third most common food, after peanuts and tree nuts, to cause anaphylaxis, so it’s important to get an early diagnosis to prevent a severe allergic reaction to milk.

Milk Allergy Diagnosis

An allergist can diagnose your milk allergy with an allergy blood test. At NY Allergy & Sinus Centers, our experienced staff will send you to a nearby lab to draw your blood for milk allergy testing. The test measures immunoglobulin (IgE), an antibody that your immune system develops in reaction to a specific allergen. You don’t need to stop taking any medications or prepare for this blood test. Results can take a few days to receive; so during this time, you’ll be asked to refrain from consuming milk.

Another way to diagnose this allergy is through an elimination diet followed by a food challenge. This option is recommended for babies and young children. During the elimination diet, your allergist will ask you to stop drinking milk or feeding it to your child for a certain amount of time and write down any symptoms you have or lack thereof. If your symptoms disappear after eliminating milk from your diet, the food challenge will confirm the diagnosis.

A food challenge is administered in a clinical setting. During the food challenge, a board-certified allergist will expose you to the suspected allergen and watch for a reaction. In the event of a severe allergic reaction, they will have epinephrine on hand to treat your symptoms.

Milk Allergy Treatment

If you’re allergic to milk, the best treatment is avoidance. There are plenty of dairy-free options available. Soy milk and almond milk are great alternatives to cow’s milk. However, if you suffer from a soy allergy or tree nut allergy, avoid all milk and supplement your diet with vitamins. We included a milk allergy food list to help you determine which foods to avoid.

Since milk is known to cause severe allergic reactions, an epinephrine auto-injector is needed. You should carry your EpiPen or Auvi-Q to treat symptoms related to anaphylaxis. Train your friends and family how to administer the medication in case you can’t do it yourself. Keep other allergy medications on hand as well for less severe symptoms.

Milk Allergy Foods To Avoid

Butter Buttermilk Casein or Caseinate
Cheese Cream Curds
Lactalbumin Milk Whey

Foods That Could Contain Milk Protein

Baked Goods Biscuits Bread Battered Foods Breakfast Cereal
Instant Mashed Potatoes Sauces & Condiments Gravy Sour Cream Soups
Chocolate Ice Cream Pudding Artificial Flavors Custard

Milk Allergy Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Colic?

Colic is a severe and fluctuating pain in the abdomen caused by intestinal gas or obstruction in the intestines. Babies suffer this condition when exposed to milk if they’re allergic to it. It is accompanied by intense crying.

Is Dairy-free the Same as Non-dairy?

No, a product labeled non-dairy just means that it doesn’t contain milk. However, it could still contain milk proteins such as casein and whey. Products that are dairy-free do not have milk or its proteins.

How Do I Know if I’m Allergic to Milk or Just Lactose Intolerant?

Visit an allergist for an allergy test and they will determine if you are allergic or just sensitive to milk. You should still avoid milk if you are lactose intolerant.

If I’m allergic to Cow’s Milk, Can I Drink Goat or Sheep Milk Instead?

Many people allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to milk from other animals. Consult with your allergist to determine which milk is safe for you.

Is Milk Allergy Curable?

Milk allergy is not curable however, some individuals grow out of it by adulthood.

Why Are People Allergic to Milk?

People are allergic to the proteins in milk. The immune system registers milk protein as harmful in some individuals and this evokes an allergic reaction.

What Is the Difference Between a Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance?

A milk allergy is an adverse immune response to the protein in milk. A lactose intolerance is a reaction to the sugar, lactose, in milk.

Can I Be Allergic to Milk?

Milk is one of the eight most common foods to cause an allergic reaction, so you may be allergic. If you experience the above milk allergy symptoms, contact a food allergy specialist for a diagnosis.

How Is Milk Allergy Treated?

Milk allergy is treated with epinephrine and antihistamines. Contact your NYC allergist for treatment.

How Is Milk Allergy Diagnosed?

An allergy specialist can diagnose your milk allergy through allergy testing.


To make an appointment about your milk allergy and for more information, call us today at 212-686-6321. The NYC Allergists at NYASC would like to help you. We have access to the latest testing and treatment, and we offer convenient asthma and allergy clinics throughout New York City.  We can find relief for your nasal and sinus symptoms, asthma, ear, nose, conditions, respiratory allergies, and skin problems.