Although cow's milk allergy and cow's milk intolerance (lactose intolerance) are two different terms, they are often used interchangeably, resulting in confusion both in clinical practice and in research reports. Cow's milk allergy is an immunologically mediated reaction to cow's milk proteins that may involve the gastro-intestinal tract, skin, respiratory tract, or multiple systems, i.e. systemic anaphylaxis.
Its prevalence in the general population is probably 1 to 3%, being highest in infants and lowest in adults.
Treatment and Prevention
Living with a milk allergy in a dairy-oriented culture is not as difficult as you might think. There are a lot of nondairy foods you can substitute for milk or milk products. You can try calcium-enriched rice milk or soy milk – these now come in vanilla and other flavors. Goat's milk isn't a good alternative; its protein is similar to that in cow's milk and may cause the same allergic reaction.
People are usually understanding when it comes to food allergies: nobody wants to have to call an ambulance! When eating out, order the simplest foods and ask detailed questions about menu items. At a friend's house, explain your situation and don't be embarrassed to ask questions if you're staying for a meal.
Having a milk allergy doesn't mean you can't still enjoy eating. In fact, some people think that some of the milk substitutes – like vanilla soy milk – taste better than regular cow's milk. As with any specialized diet, you'll probably find avoiding milk gives you the opportunity to explore and discover some great foods that you'd never have found otherwise!
Even though it can cause severe morbidity and even fatality, dietary elimination is associated with good prognosis.