Symptoms of Dairy Sensitivity

If milk, cheese, butter, or ice cream causes you uncomfortable symptoms like cramps or bloating, you’re not alone. In fact, up to two-thirds of the global population suffers from lactose intolerance. Additionally, milk is one of the most common food allergens. 

But milk causes various reactions, so it can be tricky to determine whether you have lactose intolerance, dairy allergy, or dairy sensitivity. Typically, the symptoms of dairy sensitivity take between an hour or two weeks to start showing. As a result, identifying and diagnosing it can be difficult.

You need to learn the tell-tale signs and the foods to look out for to spot dairy sensitivity easily. Read on to learn more about its potential causes and its symptoms:

What is Dairy?

Dairy is any edible product produced with an animal milk product or in animals’ mammary glands. It includes cow’s milk, buffalo milk, sheep’s milk, and goat’s milk, among many others. 

The most common type of dairy is cow’s milk which includes 87% water and 13% solids, such as fats, lactose, and proteins.

Which Foods Contain Dairy? 

Various products contain dairy, including:

  • Butter 
  • Buttermilk 
  • Ice cream 
  • Cheese (hard and soft)  
  • Cream 
  • Crème Fraiche 
  • Fromage Frais 
  • Milk (whole, skimmed, condensed, and powdered)
  • Yogurt 

If you’re following an elimination diet, make sure you pay special attention to the foods you choose. 

What is Dairy Sensitivity? 

Dairy sensitivity is when the body responds to whey or casein by producing histamines. It can cause bloating, diarrhea, dripping nose, fatigue, and joint pain, among various other symptoms. Individuals may notice symptoms instantly, or it may take several days.

Dairy sensitivity may occur due to various reasons, with each one producing similar symptoms. If you think dairy food is messing with your stomach, it could be because of a milk allergy. Your immune systems can’t recognize one or multiple proteins released by dairy products, which is causing the adverse reaction. 

It may also occur because your body lacks lactase. Without lactase, causing you to experience uncomfortable symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, or gas after eating ice cream, milk, or cheese.  

Another possible cause is irritable bowel syndrome which leads to constipation, abdominal discomfort, or diarrhea. To get an accurate diagnosis, visit your medical specialist. 

The 3 Common Symptoms of Dairy Sensitivity

Some symptoms of dairy sensitivity resemble lactose intolerance, such as:


Bloating is a common symptom of both lactose intolerance and dairy sensitivity. It appears in both children and adults.

In people with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivity, the enzyme lactase cannot break down milk sugar, i.e., lactose properly. As a result, it passes down into the gut and to the colon.

The cells in the colon lining cannot break down carbohydrates like lactose—instead, the naturally occurring bacteria living in your colon attack lactose and fermentate it. 

The fermentation process releases a short chain of fatty acids, hydrogen gas, methane, and carbon dioxide. As a result, your stomach acidity skyrockets, and you experience stomach pain and bloating, especially near the navel and in the lower part of your stomach.


The fermentation of lactose in your body causes increased carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen gas production. 

Not just this, but in people with dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance, the naturally occurring bacteria excels at fermenting lactose into acid gases. As a result, more lactose ferments in the colon, which leads to an increase in flatulence. 

The amount of gas produced may differ from person to person depending on the efficiency of the microflora and gas’s reabsorption rate.


Diarrhea commonly occurs in babies and young adults rather than in adults. In this condition, individuals experience an increased stool frequency or volume.

Lactose intolerance and dairy sensitivity can increase the volume of water in the colon, which leads to diarrhea.

In the colon lining, microflora ferments milk sugar into short-chain fatty acids and gases. Most of these acids absorb back into the colon, which increases the amount of water released by the colon.

As a result, it increases the liquid content of your stool, leading to diarrhea.

Other Non-Common Symptoms of Dairy Sensitivity

But dairy sensitivity can also cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Breathing Difficulty 
  • Eczema 
  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Swelling 
  • Wheezing 

The severity and timing of your symptoms primarily depend on the amount of lactose or dairy product you consume.

How Do You Test for Dairy Sensitivity?

Your doctor will test you for dairy sensitivity through a blood test. During your appointment, your doctor will ask you the following questions:

  • Family history about allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities
  • Do you have any known intolerances, sensitivities, or allergies?
  • What symptoms occur after you drink or eat a dairy product?

Which Dairy-Free Food Should You Try?

Luckily, if you have dairy sensitivity, you don’t have to worry about eliminating your favorite dishes and treats. These days you can easily access dairy-free alternatives in supermarkets, coffee shops, and restaurants. 

Ensure a balanced and protein and calcium-rich diet by trying the following dairy-free products:

  • Almond of Hazelnut Milk 
  • Coconut Milk 
  • Frozen Fruit Bars
  • Hemp Milk
  • Nut Cheese  
  • Oat Milk 
  • Rice Milk 
  • Soya Cheese 
  • Sunflower or Olive Oil Spreads 
  • Tofu

Will You Get Enough Calcium If You Opt for a Dairy-Free Diet?

Dairy products are typically our primary source of calcium, so naturally, patients are wary about cutting it out of their diet. 

Most people believe that without the regular intake of cheese and milk, they won’t gain enough calcium, which can potentially cause vitamin deficiencies.

However, there are an array of dairy-free alternatives like coconut milk, nut spreads, and more. Plus, you may talk to your dietitian or nutritionists to get advice on maintaining a healthy, dairy-free diet.

The Bottom Line

Dealing with dairy sensitivity can be confusing and downright frustrating since symptoms can take several days to show up. 

If you believe that you have a dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance, consider creating a diet journal. Write down what foods cause a reaction and show it to your dietitian or nutritionist. Consider switching to a dairy-free diet to avoid uncomfortable symptoms of dairy sensitivity.


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