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Monday, June 16, 2008

Can Asthma Be Caused By Dairy?

Written by Tena Moore

Can asthma be caused by dairy? I never gave the idea a thought until my doctor wanted to put me on daily steroids for my asthma. After refusing the steroid prescription, I shared a pattern I had noticed with my doctor:

I used my inhaler almost every time I ate.

Of course, she wasn't happy that I had decided to refuse the steroids and let me know that if I didn't figure out what was causing the asthma, I'd need to start taking them. She also said she'd give me time to see if I could reduce my asthma by figuring out food allergies.

If you've ever had a food allergy, you know how difficult it is to figure out which food is causing the issue. After looking at my diet habits, I decided it might be dairy. I proposed the idea to a few friends who thought it was preposterous. They could believe it was the weather, my cat, poor air quality or the pollen, but not dairy. While all of those environmental allergens are likely to cause asthma, it didn't explain why I needed to use my inhaler within five minutes after eating cheesy Mexican food or pizza.

Having an allergy to dairy is unlike being lactose intolerant, although they are sometimes confused with each other. Lactose intolerance is an inability to absorb and digest the sugar in milk, known as lactose. Lactose intolerance results in gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain or bloating, diarrhea and vomiting.

Food allergies happen when the body identifies the food as harmful and produces antibodies against the food. In the case of dairy, the body identifies the casein or whey as toxic. A food allergy can involve the body's immune system, cardiovascular system, skin, gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system. A severe food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, swelling of the mouth, throat or airways to the lungs, and an inability to breathe. A less severe food allergy can cause a skin rash or hives, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and yes, wheezing and asthma.

I did quite a bit of online research and found a variety of opinions on the situation. Then I took the information straight to my doctor. She said that yes, it sounded like I had a dairy allergy and asked me to take dairy out of my diet to see if it helped. It did! She also told me to start taking calcium supplements.

When I came home from the doctor, I called my mother and said, "You're going to think this is weird, but at age 36 I think I have a dairy allergy."

My mom's response was, "Again!?"

I found out from mom that when I was about six months old they diagnosed me with a dairy and egg allergy after I broke out in hives and was rushed to the hospital. When I was about two years old my doctor asked her to start reintroducing me to dairy and eggs in small portions. Slowly, she gave me more milk, cheese and eggs (a source of lecithin), until it was 'normal' for me to eat again. After talking to several people about this, I've found that it's quite normal for babies to have dairy allergies.

In hindsight, I’m not sure that I ever got over my food allergies. I had asthma and allergies throughout my childhood and always sounded congested; perhaps I was just tolerating it and taking allergy and asthma medicine to combat the symptoms.

Without dairy, I am no longer bloated, flatulent or congested. I have hardly any mucus at all, which I thought was something that was 'normal' and the best news of all is that I don't have to start taking daily steroids.

Now, I am on a mission to find out if it is casein or whey that I am allergic to, because I just noticed that wheat gives me some of the same symptoms.

Has anyone else experienced dairy allergies in relation to asthma?

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