Not Everyone Outgrows a Milk Allergy

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I am frequently asked what prompted me to start the website GoDairyFree.org.  Do I have a food allergic child? No. Am I lactose intolerance? Not that I know of.  Here is my story…

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Not Everyone Outgrows a Milk Allergy

I was born with a milk allergy, but food allergy awareness was practically nonexistent in the 70’s. I suffered with colic, sinus infections, breathing problems, and even had surgery to put tubes in my ears when I was 4 because of recurrent ear infections. My mother said she knew I was still allergic, but the doctors wouldn’t listen. Once what I ate became my choice, and I was perfectly willing to stare down that glass of milk until it turned yellow, I didn’t eat dairy. It’s funny how much more instinctual we are as kids. I hated milk, cheese, and cream.

Unfortunately, one day I became a “logical” adult.  My instincts went out the window when two doctors insisted I add more dairy to my diet for the health of my bones. I started by force-feeding myself milk masked by chocolate instant breakfast. Gradually I worked in some Parmesan cheese and a yogurt here and there. After a few years, I still couldn’t stomach milk, but I had created a daily ritual frozen yogurt in the name of osteoporosis prevention. My new diet was accompanied by many strange symptoms, such as sudden debilitating pains, sinus issues, a perpetual dull ache in my abdomen, and the occasional fainting episode.  Yet, I failed to make the connection.

These problems escalated slowly over the next few years. Eventually, I was making weekly emergency room visits due to severe pain, vomiting, and the inability to remain conscious. A minor seizure landed me my first ride in an ambulance (not an experience I recommend). Blood tests showed I was perfectly healthy, with the exception of abnormally high cholesterol and hypothyroidism (an inherited disorder). The thyroid was treated, but the problems did not stop.

A Doctor’s Logic Intervenes When Tests Fail

One day I was referred to a new doctor for pain management. I had mysteriously developed what the doctors called “fibromyalgia”. He sat and documented my entire history, asking what I thought seemed like bizarre questions. Then, he looked at me and said, “have you tried cutting out milk?”  I thought, “That’s it?” A two-hour doctor appointment, my entire life on paper, and that was all he had to say?  Luckily, my husband was more open minded, and eagerly jumped on the idea.

Within three days of going dairy-free my intestinal pains vanished and the emergency room visits came to a screeching halt. In fact, within a month, my cholesterol dumped 100 points. Of course, the adult that I am, I wanted MORE proof. My doctor ran a full food allergy blood test. Low and behold, I did have a “moderate” food allergy. It has been many years since I cut out dairy completely (lactose, casein, whey … you name it), and those problems have never returned.

I am lucky, I can touch dairy, and even ingest trace amounts on occasion (this makes eating out and parties much easier).  But, if I have even small amounts of ‘hidden’ dairy over a series of days, the symptoms return.

Dairy-Free as My New Normal

I did quit cold turkey, but two things initially made the dairy-free journey difficult:  my newfound addiction to cheese and ice cream, and society.  Luckily, my addiction and cravings tamed within a couple of weeks, and completely subsided within a few months. In fact, I have re-discovered my inner-instinctual-child.  I can no longer stand the taste of cheese, and I can watch my friends enjoy 31 flavors without an ounce of envy.

As for society, that was a different story. Milk ingredients seemed to be in everything. Entire menus are drowned in cheese, and food manufacturers have found an infinite number of uses for milk. Worst of all, some people would insist that the notion of not eating dairy was ridiculous. Who says peer pressure stops after high school?  Luckily, I had a husband to keep me in line and to vouch that he was there for every illness and hospital visit.

Let’s clear something up though, I love food, and feeling deprived was never an option.  I was determined to not only live dairy-free, but by golly I was going to enjoy it!  Over the years I have sought out research studies, gathered dietary information, collected recipes, taken up baking, and jotted down hundreds of ideas.  I decided to share what I learned with others, and as you can see from this website and my books, it is quite the collection.  Whether lactose intolerant, allergic, vegan, or just plain health conscious, I wanted others to know that life without dairy foods can be delicious, healthy, and really quite simple, if you have the right tools.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, 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.

5 Comments

  1. Maria Olmos on

    Thank you!! For writing about dairy allergies!! I’ve been sick all of last year with sinus congestion and cough! Been dairy free for only 3 weeks and I feel 1000 times better. Symptoms are gone! I also just got out of a doctors appointment to request an allergy test and she denied it, because she’s never heard of a dairy allergy when I suggested it can be dairy. The doctor told me to go ahead and have a glass of milk and if I get symptoms she’ll do testing, after I did mention to her that after having a cheesecake I vomited phlegm at night! Thank you!

    • Wow, I’ve heard some doctor horror stores, but that takes the cake Maria! You might want to mention the “Top 8 Allergens” to her so that she can get properly educated. I hope everything works out well for you and welcome to Go Dairy Free 🙂

  2. Thank you for this, I am glad I am not alone. I have had allergy testing, ct scans to find out why I have chronic sinus infections and now it all makes sense. I too have not outgrown my allergy, and still have several problems.
    Thanks again for bringing this to light!

  3. Wow Alisa, your story sounds so much like my own. After being diagnosed with milk allergy at birth (including breast milk!), I avoided all dairy until rebelling as a teenager and eating cheese (pizza, of course). When I didn’t die as a result, my diagnosis changed from allergy to intolerance (I still couldn’t eat ice cream).

    Still, I ate very little of it until I began worrying about getting enough calcium when I hit 30 or so. I started using half and half in my coffee – I drink about 2 or 3 cups of coffee a day. I also started having horrendous digestive issues, but then was diagnosed as gluten- and fructose-intolerant and attributed it to that. Cutting gluten and fructose helped, but not 100%, and the fructose restriction ruled out a lot of wonderful healthy foods. The doctors and nutritionists I consulted all insisted that neither cheese nor half-and-half contained ANY lactose, so I couldn’t possibly be reacting to the small amounts I consumed.

    Well. They were wrong. I recently switched to almond milk in my coffee and cut ALL dairy from my diet, and guess what – no more digestive issues! I’ve even been eating small amounts of healthy fructose-containing foods (sweet potatoes! berries!) with no problems. In addition, cutting all dairy cleared up my chronic rhinitis and has allowed me to discontinue 2 allergy meds.

    Whether I have an allergy or just a really severe intolerance remains unknown, but I’m not sure it matters. Like you, I plan to live dairy-free for the rest of my life, because really, nothing tastes so good that it’s worth getting sick over!

    • Thanks so much for sharing! We definitely aren’t alone – I hear stories just like this one every day. I love hearing how people make the choice to feel good over eating a single food. There really is life after dairy cheese and creamer! lol

      Amazing and wonderful that you were able to cut two allergy meds, and I’m so happy to hear a little fructose has made its way back into your life 🙂

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