Allergy, Asthma & Milk: Is There a Connection?

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Symptoms of a Milk Allergy

The biggest difference between a milk allergy and milk intolerence are the symptoms. People who can’t physically tolerate milk have symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or flatulence. The symptoms of a milk allergy are much more severe and include hives, vomiting and immediate wheezing. It’s hard to avoid these foods because so many foods contain milk (or milk products). Besides milk, yogurt, cheese and whey, look for these ingredients on a label: lactose, lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoglobulin, casein or sodium caseinate.

The hardest part of diagnosing a milk allergy is that the symptoms may manifest differently at different points in a person’s life. Professor Gary Null writes in the Complete Encyclopedia of Natural Healing: “Even if the symptoms are not the same, the underlying allergy may be. A child who has suffered milk-associated asthma, for instance, may have severe acne as a teenager. The milk allergy is still there, but its symptoms have moved to a different organ system, often misleading the patient and physician into thinking that the original allergy has been outgrown.” Other studies show that between 50 percent to 60 percent of infants may have a milk allergy that can manifest as an ear infection, sinusitis, frequent colds or even behavioral issues.

Asthma and Milk…Is There a Connection?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a milk allergy provokes an immune response and is one of the most common food allergens. At the heart of the debate about allergy, milk and asthma is the question: Can an undiagnosed milk allergy make asthma worse?

Studies show that milk and its mucous-forming properties can trigger an asthma attack by clogging the lungs. Professor Null says: “In all respiratory conditions, mucous-forming dairy foods, such as milk and cheese, can exacerbate clogging of the lungs and should be avoided.” This would mean that an asthma attack develops when there is more mucous in the lungs than the body can handle.

In “Natural Prescriptions,” Dr. Robert Giller explains that elimanating all dairy helps relieve asthma “not because dairy products stimulate mucous production, but because they’re very common causes of allergy, upper-respiratory allergies and asthma (which may be an allergy in itself).” It’s the protein in milk (casein) that is most likely responsible for the allergy-related asthma.

Many people are concerned that eliminating dairy will result in a calcium deficiency. Fortunately, calcium is also found in tofu, tahini, leafy green vegetables and broccoli. Suzanne Havala, R.D., author of the American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarian diets (1992), says that “after weaning, humans do not need to drink milk.”

A dairy-free lifestyle lessens asthma symptoms, regardless of whether excess mucous production or an undiagnosed milk allergy is the cause. And although doctors and researchers may not agree on why dairy affects asthma, they all agree that there is a connection.