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Managing Milk Allergies by Knowing What's in Dairy Products

A milk allergy — an extreme response by the body’s immune system to proteins in milk — can be tricky to manage. Avoiding allergic reaction to dairy products starts with knowing what's in your food and drink.

Cow’s milk contains many different proteins, some of which can trigger allergic reactions, A trace amount of certain proteins may be all it takes to produce hives, rashes, nausea, congestion, diarrhea, swelling in the mouth and throat, and other symptoms. Severe reactions can even lead to shock and death.

A primary protein found in milk, casein can turn up in processed foods, restaurant foods, and foods you may eat at someone’s home. Because these foods don’t always come with detailed ingredient lists, you may find it difficult to know for certain what they contain.

If you or a loved one suffers from a milk allergy, be assertive and ask for information about ingredients in the foods you're served. If the restaurant wait staff or your hosts don’t know, ask to see package labels of foods you suspect may contain casein.        

Milk residues that contain protein may inadvertently end up in other foods. For example, a spoon used to mix a bowl of pudding (made with milk) may be used to stir a pot of oatmeal, adding a trace of milk protein to the oatmeal.

Cross-contamination also can take place during manufacturing. However, food labels are required to note when foods are prepared on shared equipment and cross contamination with an allergen is a risk. Read food labels carefully. Be aware of foods that may harbor small amounts of milk protein.

About 2.5 percent of children under the age of 3 have milk allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. The allergy usually shows up in the first year of life. The good news is that 80 percent of children with a milk allergy outgrow it by the time they’re 16 years old.

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