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"What are the risks involved in lactose intolerance?"


My son is lactose intolerant. What does this mean, and should I be worried about milk being in everyday foods, like a peanut allergy?


This is a discussion to have with your son's pediatrician. Lactose intolerance is relatively common, particularly in people from certain parts of the world. In fact, by adulthood some experts estimate that most people will have some degree of lactose intolerance.

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Overall the term lactose intolerance refers to a condition in which a person does not have the ability of break down the sugars found in milk, specifically lactose. The enzyme that breaks down lactose is called lactase and is typically produced by the cells lining the intestine. When a person does not produce this enzyme, the lactose sugars cannot be broken down and can contribute to causing abdominal bloating, gas, and crampy abdominal pain. This is, of course, not particularly pleasant for the person involved, so the best treatment is to avoid foods that contain lactose, i.e. milk products including cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. The good news for your son is that an intolerance is NOT the same as an allergy--milk products will not cause your son to go into an anaphylactic reaction such as can happen with children who are allergic to peanuts. You will not have to worry about carrying around a syringe of epinephrine (the so-called epi pen) in case of severe allergy. An intolerance causes distressing but not life-threatening symptoms. The best thing for you to do in this situation is make sure that you schedule a visit with his pediatrician to go over how to keep your son healthy and how to ensure that he receives adequate nutrition, given that milk products will not be a part of his diet for now.

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