Lactose intolerance is a digestive condition that happens when an individual does not produce enough lactase enzymes in the small intestine to digest the lactose in dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramping and bloating. Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance and a food allergy may be similar. However, the difference between intolerant to dairy and having a food allergy to dairy is important. Consuming a dairy product can make you miserable if you are intolerant to it. The reaction to a food allergy can be life threatening.
Diagnosing lactose intolerance can be done through three different tests. During a lactose tolerance test, your doctor will measure the glucose in your blood after you drink a high lactose beverage. A hydrogen breath test is essentially the same but after drinking the high lactose beverage, you will be asked to breath into a device that will measure hydrogen levels in your system. If you are not able to tolerate either of these tests, your doctor can also perform a stool acid test.
There is no cure for lactose intolerance but you can manage your symptoms by avoiding dairy products or by taking an enzyme medication to assist with the lactose breakdown in your intestines. It is very important to be seen by an allergist to determine if you have an “intolerance” or “allergy” to lactose before making any changes to your diet or taking medications.