Lactose is one of the main ingredients in all types of dairy products such as milk and cheese. For helping digest lactose, there is an enzyme known as lactase found in our small intestines. Lactase changes lactose into glucose and this is used by our bodies for energy. For adults and children with lactose intolerances, the digestion does not happen properly and this leads to uncomfortable GI or gastrointestinal symptoms. If your intestine lacks lactase, you have lactose intolerance. Without lactase, you cannot break down lactose properly. Reduced lactase production can result in the inability of digesting lactose for life. Lactose is not digested if there is inadequate lactase production.(1,2)
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Not all people who face difficulty digesting lactose have the same symptoms and all are not considered intolerant to lactose. Lactose intolerance is a condition, which happens when a body does not produce adequate lactase and leads to physical symptoms including cramps, abdominal bloating, gas and diarrhea.(2) It is a biological process decided by DNA. Lactose intolerance is greatest among East Asian descent and the lowest among North European descent. Lactose intolerance results from low lactase production. You should take your child to a medical practitioner if he/she is experiencing symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Early Signs of Lactose Intolerance in Children
When children cannot digest lactose properly, it causes a lot of discomfort. The signs and symptoms of children being lactose intolerant are the following:(2,3)
Sometimes parents confuse milk allergy with lactose intolerance. Though both have similar symptoms, the conditions are different. Milk allergy is a strong immune system reaction, which is seen during the initial year of life. On the other hand, lactose intolerance is a digestive system issue and is seen rarely in toddlers and infants.(1) The symptoms of lactose intolerance can begin in late childhood and adolescence and it becomes noticeable more in adulthood. Besides the discomfort linked with the symptoms, it is a non-threatening disorder without any long-term complexes. The symptoms can be restricted by not including certain food in the diet of your child.
The symptoms start appearing in children after the age of 5 years. It is found that in African-American children, the symptoms begin in children who are 2 years old.(1) They can start after half an hour to 2 hours of having drinks milk or food that contain lactose. The symptoms of each child might differ. Lactose intolerance symptoms range from mild to severe and also depend on the lactose amount a child consumes and the lactase amount a body makes.
Treatment of Lactose Intolerance in Children
Children and teenagers can manage lactose intolerance when they drink less milk and eat fewer dairy products. However, they should consume it with foods that do not have lactose.(1) Parents can take the help of pediatric gastroenterologists for managing this medical condition. Older children can choose between dairy-free cheese products or dairy-free milk or use Lactaid tablets that have lactase enzymes. A Lactaid tablet can prevent symptoms including stomach pain, bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea. Lactase enzyme supplements can be useful. Lactose-free milk can help you get calcium without lactose intolerance problems.(3)
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