Dairy allergy and intolerance

Dairy is one of the most common food intolerances in people with eczema. However, embarking on a dairy free diet requires, above all, medical advice and guidance, together with a huge amount of patience and discipline.

Experts are divided as to whether or not eliminating dairy from the diet is beneficial, although many people with eczema who have eliminated dairy have reported that it has made a difference to the severity of their eczema.

If there is a history of atopy (a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases) in the family, it is important to breastfeed babies for at least the first 16 weeks. However, babies who are exclusively breastfed can still develop eczema.

The majority of formula milk is based on cows milk, but Soya based formulas are now more widely available.Dairy intolerance can be an allergic reaction to the sugar found in milk (lactose sugar - hence the phrase 'lactose intolerance') or the milk's proteins.

The majority of formula milk is based on cow’s milk, but soya-based formulas are now more widely available. There is also a small selection of formula milk available for babies on prescription (eg Neocate and Nutramigen). These types of formula are a non-allergenic base of 100% free amino acids, and manufactured in a milk free environment. The NHS Choices website explains the various types of formula milk available, including first infant; anti-reflux and hypoallergenic.

Milk and milk products seem to find their way into so many foods so eliminating dairy products means that you need to become a label watcher.

At first, this seems quite daunting, but it is surprising how quickly you become aware of which products to avoid.

The word 'milk' can come in many guises - look out for words on packaging such as whey, casein, caseinates, lactalbumin and lactose, as these are all derived from milk.

Wherever possible it is better to prepare all meals from fresh produce, as many processed foods can contain milk, for example batters may contain milk and some vegetable fats have milk products in them.

Health food stores and supermarkets now stock a good range of dairy alternatives and free-from ranges. It is now possible to buy soya, goat's or ewe's milk, goat's cheese, dairy-free ice cream, chocolates and biscuits.

Specialists believe that any food elimination diet should show positive results within about 6 weeks. If the eczema is improving, it is usual to continue to eliminate the particular food for about a year.

Some doctors believe that dairy products should be avoided for the first year of life if a baby is 'at risk' of developing eczema. However, there is little practical evidence to substantiate this claim. However, the NHS do recommend not giving a child under the age of 12 months cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk as a drink.

If you are concerned that a member of your family may have a dairy allergy or intolerance, it is important that you speak to your GP before eliminating dairy to be sure you have all the information you need to maintain a healthy diet.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 27 February 2018

Next review: 27 February 2021