Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate or sugar found in milk, and in dairy products made from milk, including yoghurt, ice cream, soft cheeses and butter. Lactose intolerance is not an allergic reaction and the symptoms are rarely serious.
The main treatment for lactose intolerance is to reduce the amount of lactose in the diet. That means reducing the amount of dairy products consumed, such as milk, yoghurt, ice cream and soft cheeses. If you are lactose intolerant and also suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may be following a low FODMAP diet. See here for more information on lactose and dairy products on a low FODMAP diet.
Lactose intolerance is different from milk allergy, which is an immune reaction to milk or milk products that can be serious. An allergic reaction to milk or milk products can cause symptoms such as an itchy skin, rash, swelling of the lips or difficulty breathing. Seek medical advice urgently if you suspect a serious allergic reaction.
Since a severe allergic reaction should always be treated as a medical emergency, it is also useful to know about first aid treatment for anaphylaxis.
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Last reviewed: November 2018