Is lactose intolerance an allergic condition?

No, food allergy or more widely known as ‘Food Hypersensitivity’ is an immune response whereas food intolerance does not involve the immune system.3,5

Allergies are an overreaction of the body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance as if it were toxic. Such substances, known as allergens, may include certain foods, pollens, house dust, animal hair or moulds. Food intolerances describe non-immunological effects including direct pharmacologic effects of chemicals in food or metabolic defects such as lactase deficiency.

It can be hard to tell the difference between symptoms of food allergy and intolerance. Generally, in sufferers with what is known as IgE mediated allergy, symptoms usually appear fairly rapidly within first consumption of the food (from immediate to less than 1 hour) and usually involve the skin, respiratory and/or gastrointestinal systems.3 Signs or symptoms include swelling, itching, acute hives, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties or in severe cases anaphylaxis.3 However, in sufferers with non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity, symptoms may not appear until several days later.3

Signs or symptoms of lactose intolerance include mild abdominal discomfort, flatulence, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting.1 Food intolerance reactions are usually related to the amount and frequency of the food consume. Symptoms may not occur until a certain threshold level of the food is consumed.1