The Difference Between Lactose Intolerance and Dairy Allergy

I'll never forget the moment I was told that I tested positive for lactose intolerance. I was sitting at my desk at work and my cell phone started vibrating... the doctor's office popped up on my caller i.d. They'd tested me for several things including lactose intolerance, several vitamin deficiencies and celiac disease. I was DREADING the possibility of having Celiac... I've been pasta-obsessed since childhood, after all.

I answered my cell and walked into my boss's empty office. Closing the door behind me, I nervously awaited the words the nice lady was about to deliver. She told me that the test came back negative for Celiac (sigh of relief - YES!). But lactose intolerance... that came back positive along with vitamin D deficiency. Womp, womp.

No more dairy? I mean, I was never much of a milk drinker, but CHEESE? No cheese? Come on... I'm from Chicagoland (AKA Land of Deep DIsh Pizza) and am very near the Wisconsin border... the true land of cheese. CHEESE IS SO AMAZINGLY TASTY. Did you know that a place called Mars Cheese Castle exists in Wisconsin? It does and it's a wonderful place. It even looks like a castle. 

I digress.

So, my diagnosis was sad. I literally shed a couple tears during the first family gathering involving pizza. The discipline I had to exercise was maddening. BUUUT... it's not the end of the world. About three years have passed and I probably only abandon my discipline a few times a year at this point. (YES. I said it. Sometimes I'm bad. Every once in a blue moon, I'll allow myself to be bad with certain things... not everything, though! Propylene glycol, for example, is not something I mess with.)

So, let's go over the basics. There's a very simple way to look at intolerance vs. allergy:

Intolerance = that incredibly whiny kid

Allergy = that kid throwing themself on the floor whilst kicking, screaming, crying, pulling out their hair and going ape-shit

Lactose Intolerance:

Occurs when your body (specifically the small intestine) doesn't produce enough of the correct enzyme (lactase) which allows your body to properly digest lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk.

Dairy Allergy:

A chronic reaction caused by the immune system viewing milk as an intruder. This causes white blood cells to produce antibodies which end up attaching to other cells and releasing histamine. Histamine is what makes all those nasty allergy symptoms happen.

The symptoms between the two conditions are also a little different.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance:

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • gas

Symptoms of Dairy Allergy:

  • anaphylaxis
  • bloody stools
  • vomiting
  • indigestion
  • hives
  • runny nose
  • watery eyes
  • wheezing
  • diarrhea
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • colic (in babies)

One other important thing to understand is that lactose can stand alone from dairy. Just because you're avoiding dairy does NOT mean lactose is out of the picture. Lactose is also found in lactoserumwheymilk solids, or modified milk ingredients. So, make sure yu read those ingredient labels carefully!

The good news is that both lactose intolerance and dairy allergy can be diagnosed through general practitioners, so it's pretty easy to get tested and well worth it!

Are you lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy? What's your biggest struggle with it?