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What is lactose intolerance?

Milk allergy is sometimes confused with lactose intolerance. These are different conditions and treatment is not the same. It is important when a diagnosis is given that a clear distinction is made between these conditions, so that the appropriate treatment can be undertaken.

Lactose is the milk sugar found in every kind of milk - cow's milk, goat's milk, sheep's milk and human breast milk, as well as in some dairy products made from milk. Lactose intolerance is due to a lack of or insufficient production of an enzyme in the gut - lactase. As a result, when drinking milk or eating dairy products, the lactose is not digested and can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as flatulence, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and nausea. Symptoms are dose-related, which usually means small amounts of lactose may be tolerated with no ill effects. Different people can tolerate varying levels of lactose depending on their particular degree of lactase deficiency. Lactose intolerant people can tolerate hard cheese as the lactose is removed in production.