Is Lactose Intolerance a Food Allergy?

lactose intolerance in children blog image of a child refusing to drink milk

Some children may react badly to consuming food with dairy products, but is it an intolerance to lactose, or a food allergy? How can parents tell if their child is suffering from this? Learn more about lactose intolerance as well as the difference between food intolerance and food allergies.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a condition when the body is unable to digest a type of sugar, lactose, due to a lack of the enzyme lactase.

Lactose can be found in milk and dairy foods, such as yogurt, cheese, or any foods containing these as ingredients. Many common foods contain lactose as one of their ingredients, so you will need to check food labels.

Lactose intolerance is often hereditary. In these cases, over time a person’s body may make less of the lactase enzyme. Symptoms may occur during adolescence or adult years.

How can I tell if my child is lactose intolerant?

Your child may experience the following symptoms after drinking milk:

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Bloatedness
  • Pain
  • Gas
  • Diarrhoea

Another condition with similar symptoms to lactose intolerance is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so do consult with your doctor. You may need some tests to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Is lactose intolerance the same as a milk allergy?

Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergy. For cow’s milk protein allergy, you will need to get an allergy test done by your paediatric allergist to determine if your child has an allergy. Milk allergy happens when the immune system overreacts to milk protein. When you eat or drink milk protein, it can trigger an allergic reaction. Symptoms can be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling to severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness).

A special diet is required for children with cow’s milk allergy. Some children may require a food challenge test, which will be administered in your doctor’s clinic.

Diet for Lactose Intolerant Children

As children who are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy will have a restrictive diet, please consult your dietitian to discuss how to optimize your child’s diet to ensure nutrient adequacy within the limitations and to prevent any growth issues.

ms suzanne khor paediatric dietitian
Ms Suzanne Khor
Principal Dietitian
SBCC Baby & Child Clinic (Asthma, Lung, Sleep, Allergy & Paediatric Centre)
Nobel Gastroenterology Centre (Gleneagles Medical Centre)
Nobel Gastroenterology Centre (Mount Elizabeth Novena)

Our Specialist
Suzanne Khor has been practising as a clinical dietician for the past 18 years. She obtained her postgraduate degree (Masters of Health Science Education) from the University of Sydney Australia. Her special interests are nutrition in feeding difficulties, diet therapy for neurological disorders, eating disorders and weight management.