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Student reflects on life with a milk allergy
January 30, 2023
Life with a milk allergy is inconvenient yet amusing. I was diagnosed when I was one year old after my first spoonful of ice cream resulted in a face covered in hives. Ever since, I’ve had to tread lightly when it comes to food. It’s taken me years to build up enough of a tolerance to eat chocolate, but I still can’t pass the milk challenge, a test to determine whether a milk allergy exists (I lasted two drops of dairy before my mouth started itching). It’s an interesting lifestyle, and many challenges come with it.
Life with a milk allergy is people pitying me. Most of the time, when I reveal I’m allergic to milk to someone, they tell me that they’re sorry for me, and every time, I have to hold back laughter. There’s no need to feel sorry for me. I don’t even know what I’m missing out on; there’s an abundance of cow’s milk alternatives on the market, and my allergy is unique in that I can have baked-in dairy and I have a slight tolerance to things like chocolate and butter. I don’t care that I have a milk allergy. I’ve had it for 16 years, so I wouldn’t know how to live without it.
Life with a milk allergy is getting told I’m lactose intolerant. Nothing is more frustrating than when I tell someone I’m allergic to dairy and they respond with, “So you’re lactose intolerant?” That’s not what I said. I am allergic. There is a difference. I’ve actually had people argue with me and try to tell me that I’m lactose intolerant and not allergic to milk. Lactose intolerance is when one’s body is unable to digest lactose, and a milk allergy is when one’s body sees the protein in milk as a threat, triggering an immune system response. Both can result in stomach and digestion issues, but only one of them can result in itchiness, hives, swelling, vomiting, and in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock (which I, knock on wood, am lucky enough to have never experienced).
Life with a milk allergy is getting my restaurant orders messed up. So often do I order food, emphasizing to the restaurant staff that I have a milk allergy and saying exactly what needs to be left off the meal, only to receive my dish covered in cheese. It’s always the cheese. And then while everyone else is getting their food, I have to wait for the restaurant to make me a whole new entrée. Except for the time I ordered a hamburger from Famous Dave’s. When they gave me a cheeseburger, I told them that I’d gotten the wrong order and explained my milk allergy, but instead of making me another burger, they attempted to scrape the melted cheese off the patty, leaving a bunch of cheese residue. They just didn’t get it.
Life with a milk allergy is famished birthday parties. The go-to meal for most events is pizza, which I can’t have unless it doesn’t have cheese on it (which, at that point, is just a giant breadstick with marinara sauce). I often resort to eating my friends’ pizza crust, which is equally sad and hilarious. Next comes the desert, but nine times out of 10, the frosting on the cake is buttercream, so I have to take the frosting off before I can eat it. Birthday parties, and really anywhere I go, I have limited food options.
So, life with a milk allergy is weird. I have to look out for myself and proceed with caution, and I have to be patient and accept that I won’t always be accommodated for. It’s been 16 years with this food allergy, and I’m probably never going to grow out of it, but I don’t mind. For who would I be without my beloved soy milk?