Milk is one of the most common food allergies among children, with about 2.5 percent of kids believed to be allergic to proteins found in dairy products. Although most kids will develop a tolerance to dairy products by the time they are teenagers, it is still important to understand the risk.

Dairy allergies are caused by an immune system response to proteins contained in milk and other dairy products. This is not to be confused with lactose intolerance, a sensitivity to the sugars found in milk. Those with lactose intolerance are usually able to consume milk that has the lactose removed, while this product will still cause a reaction in those with a true dairy allergy.

Dairy includes all types of cows’ milk, in addition to cheese, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, half and half, ice cream, and anything containing these ingredients. Dairy ingredients are found in a surprising variety of foods. Most children with food allergies experience their first reaction to baby formula containing milk, though dairy products are also found in baked goods, canned tuna, and many other items on grocery store shelves.

Symptoms of a dairy allergy include skin reactions, itchy and watery eyes, nausea and abdominal pain, wheezing, and coughing. They usually appear within two hours of eating foods containing dairy. While the presence of such symptoms after consuming dairy may suggest a dairy allergy, the only sure way to diagnose this allergy is with a blood test. The usual treatment for those diagnosed with a dairy allergy is to avoid products containing dairy; many of those with food allergies also carry an Epi-Pen to treat themselves with epinephrine if they experience accidental exposure to the allergen.

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