Milk Allergies are Real: Respect for the Rodney Dangerfield of Food Allergies


I never thought that I would have to revisit this topic. After all, our society is becoming acutely aware of food allergies. But just the other day, a friend and advocate in the food allergy community said, “people don’t die from a milk allergy.” On the contrary, severe milk allergies are real. And it’s time they gain some respect.

Milk Allergies are Real - Why We Must Respect the Rodney Dangerfield of Food Allergies

We’ve Come So Far. Or Have We?

My first major brush with milk allergy disbelief came during a call with a certifying agency about eight years ago. They were involved in lab testing for gluten-free food certification, and thought there was a huge opportunity in dairy-free certification. I inquired about liability issues, and they stated, “that shouldn’t be a problem since milk doesn’t cause life-threatening reactions.” After hanging up the phone, I emailed Sabrina Shannon’s story to them. Sabrina was lost to a milk allergy tragedy, and her story sparked some of the first food allergy legislation. I never heard from that certifying agency again.

I later read a WebMD report on the need for better food allergy guidelines. It briefly introduced me to Matt Mitchell, a then 20 year old college student who had experienced several close calls due to a lifelong milk allergy. His emergency room visits were frequent, including one on Christmas day. He had consumed dark chocolate that was made on shared equipment with milk chocolate. In the article, Matt’s mother Lynda stated, “I call milk allergies the Rodney Dangerfield of food allergies. They don’t get the respect that peanut allergies get because most people confuse them with lactose intolerance. But just like peanuts or shellfish, a milk allergy can be life threatening.”

Lynda’s words prompted me to initially write this story seven years ago. And today, I’m bringing new life to the topic in remembrance of all who have been lost to a milk allergy. When someone doesn’t believe you, send them here. I sadly have ample proof that anaphylactic and life-threatening reactions to milk allergies are real.

Why We Must Remember that Milk Allergies are Real

Fortunately, at last check, Matt was in his mid-twenties and still speaking out for milk allergies. But not all milk allergic kids and adults have been so lucky. In the past several months, the number of milk allergy-related deaths has surpassed peanut and tree nut allergies in the news.

Do People Die from Milk Allergies? Unfortunately, Yes, They Do

Sabrina’s story still brings me to tears, and now, so do these:

These are publicized events from this year alone. There are many more stories from years past, and that families didn’t wish to share. Not to mention the loss of individuals with multiple food allergens (including milk) where the culprit remained unknown.

I believe that anyone with a food allergy or intolerance of any magnitude should be taken seriously. But please be aware that milk is a top allergen throughout the world, and it has the ability to cause severe, and even fatal, reactions.

Ways to Support the Milk Allergy Community

Every May, FARE promotes Food Allergy Awareness Week. It’s a great time to get involved in the Teal movement and to learn more. But there are also some very personal causes that have been created to support food allergy awareness.

Caroline Lorette tragically passed away at the age of 14 after having an allergic reaction to dairy. Her parents started The Sweet Caroline Foundation to promote allergy awareness and offer allergy education programming for schools and organizations. They also award a scholarship to students who develop and implement innovative ideas to bring awareness and education to students, adults and the general public.

In 2017, 3 year old Elijah-Alavi Affiq was given a grilled cheese sandwich by an adult at his New York City Pre-K school. Elijah was severely allergic to dairy, and unfortunately did not survive the incipent. His father, Thomas Silvera, co-founded the Elijah-Alavi Foundation in honor of his memory and to bring awareness to the severity of food allergies and anaphylaxis. Their mission is to provide training and education in city school and daycare centers at no cost to them.

Understand and Share the Message with Go Dairy Free

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About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


  1. Preach, Preach, PREACH. I do not fear my son’s nut allergies, I fear his dairy the most since they are sooooo misunderstood. People cannot somehow put together that butter, cream cheese, yogurt=milk/dairy. And even then they think it’s a lactose thing. Yes, please keep spreading awareness.

  2. Such an important post Alisa. You’re so right that a lot of people confuse lactose intolerance w a dairy allergy and it’s taken less seriously than some other allergies. Thanks for helping to spread awareness.

  3. So sad to see those who lost their lives to dairy…and people just don’t get it. When we were on vacation, we stopped at a place and asked for the manager who SWORE he’d make my son’s meal himself without any contact to the allergens. When it came out, double checked with ingredients and he let us know there was no dairy, but used real butter?!!!!! WHAT?! And that’s a restaurant manager. SO scary.

    • That is just scary. I get the butter issue so, so much. So often in fact that when they tell me something is dairy-free, I then ask if it contains butter specifically. It’s amazing to me how such seemingly simple issues are so confusing in our society.

  4. I am in disbelief at how people can be so confused or misinformed about food allergies, especially in the community! It is really up to us to spread awareness. Thank you for revisiting this topic. Even with the increase in awareness we need to remind people once in a while.

  5. This is so sad. And the sad truth is that end as a culture sneak dairy into everything! It’s very hard to avoid, even harder than gluten these days.
    I once worked at a restaurant where the head chef had zero respect for allergies and me and this other girl with a milk allergy (not intolerance) couldn’t convince him to take us seriously. It was heartbreaking because he has peoples life’s in his hand and plays lip service to customers but then doesn’t think it’s real. I hope this changes and I hope we find a cure for food allergies!

    • I have to agree. My husband is gluten free, and almost every restaurant we go to has gluten free options clearly spelled out – but dairy-free can be a minefield sometimes! I hope that it improves, too. Thanks for stopping in 🙂

  6. Thank you for writing this! I’ve had an extremely severe milk allergy for 27 years and it’s amazing that people just consider it lactose intolerance – including restaurants and medical professionals. I appreciate you trying to educate people on the reality of allergies ?

  7. Thank you for putting this article out there. You don’t know how many times I have to explain to people that my daughter is allergic to milk and eggs. People will always say “oh she’s just lactose intolerant” and I’m like no she’s highly allergic and we both carry epi pens and she wears an alert bracelet. I always say how many people with lactose intolerance carries an Epi pen and wears a bracelet and then it’s like oh I’m sorry we don’t want to keep or feed her. We must educate people about food allergies. I’m constantly doing it at my daughter’s school, work, church functions and with her friends and family.

  8. Thank you for writing this and raising more awareness about the seriousness of milk allergies and all allergies. My son has multiple life-threatening food allergies, including milk and this article will be helpful to share when schools and others question the severity.

  9. I suffer from lactose intolerance and I had NO IDEA milk allergies could be so severe to cause death. I’m floored and now better educated. Thank you.

  10. For the last 21 years, we have managed milk and peanut allergies for both our daughters. Having a milk allergy is very serious, and it’s in so many food items. You are correct, milk is one of the “Top 8” allergens that account for 90% of all allergic reactions. Thank you for your website, I have used many of your recipes.

  11. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t humans the only mammal that continues to drink milk after infancy/childhood? Don’t get me wrong, Ilove cheese and dairy in general, but we also nearly lost out Grandson to dairy and soy allergies, and he was being breastfed. His mother had to eliminate all dairy and soy from her diet in order for him to thrive and survive.

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