Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy; What You Need To Know

Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergy have many similar symptoms to one another. They also have similar symptoms to other food allergies and intolerances. So it’s important to know what to look for, before you come to any conclusions, or cut out specific foods from your diet.

Before you read more, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get clarification from a medical professional before messing with your diet.


How are Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance different?

Cow’s milk, like any foodstuff, is made of lots of different components, including proteins (casein, whey etc), milk sugar (called lactose) and milk fat. Milk allergy and lactose intolerance are both caused by milk, but triggered by different parts of milk.

If you are having trouble with dairy products, it can be for one of two reasons:

  1. Milk allergy is caused by milk proteins
  2. Lactose intolerance is caused by milk sugars


Milk Allergy

Milk allergy triggers an autoimmune response when milk is consumed. This means an allergic reaction happens due to the immune system mistaking cow’s milk for being a threat. This releases chemicals such as histamines to trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Immune responses to cow’s milk are caused specifically by milk proteins.


Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is triggered by lactose, the sugar found in cow’s milk. In the digestive system of most adults around the world, an enzyme called lactase is produced, which breaks lactose down into smaller pieces so it can be digested.

For those with lactose intolerance, lactase isn’t produced in high enough quantities, or at all. So milk sugar is not digested and begins to cause digestive trouble instead. This means that instead of being digested and absorbed, the lactose stays in the gut as sugar, and feeds hungry gut bacteria. This in turn releases acids and toxic gases that cause the painful and bloating symptoms of lactose intolerance.



Milk allergy and lactose intolerance can both cause:

  • Wind
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloating and excess wind
  • Stomach aches and stomach cramps
  • Loud noises from the stomach!
  • Feelings of nausea


In addition, as cow’s milk allergy involves the immune system, allergy symptoms can occur including an itchy rash, a runny nose, or coughing and wheezing. As such, milk allergy symptoms should be seen to by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Find out more about milk allergy at Allergy UK


Dairy Free Milk

Whether you are lactose intolerant or have milk allergy, there are many alternatives to choose from. Check out my post on Vegan Milk Alternatives for all you need to know!

8 thoughts on “Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy; What You Need To Know

  1. Awesome blog you have here but I was curious if you knew of any discussion boards that cover going dairy free? If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

  2. I have stopped drinking milk because it gives me a bad stomach. Is goat milk better?

    1. Hi Donald,

      First you need to figure out whether you are lactose intolerant, or have milk allergy (or even something else). Speak to your doctor if you have concerns, and get it checked by a professional.

      If it is lactose intolerance, then goats milk could work for you. It is quite a lot lower in lactose than cow’s milk, so worth a try. The same applies for goat’s cheese and sheep’s cheese compared with cheese made from cow’s milk.

      Check out for more information, and consult your doctor before experimenting.

  3. First of all I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out where can I buy lactose free milk

    1. Hi Nav,

      Thanks for your comment! I have now added a link at the bottom of the page, to answer this question. Check out my post on Milk Alternatives to find out more about brands that produce lactose free milk and dairy free milk.

  4. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog!

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