Lactose Intolerance in Children Signs and Symptoms
Unfortunately, children are not exactly always the best at describing what’s wrong with them. Abdominal troubles are often generalized as “tummy aches” and bathroom problems are often too embarrassing a topic for children to discuss. This can make identifying lactose intolerance in children difficult, as a child is usually ill equipped to determine if dairy is contributing to their digestive disturbances. However, when children complain of what can only be described as constant indigestion, it is important to consider whether or not intolerance to diary might be playing a role.
Because infants are born with the enzymes necessary to properly digest lactose, it is common that symptoms do not begin in children until around the age of three. Infants displaying negative reactions to dairy may be suffering instead from a milk allergy, and may require a switch to lactose free infant formula. In children over the age of three, signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance may vary. Some of the more common signs are stomach bloating and nausea. Typically, these lactose intolerance symptoms will appear anywhere from half an hour to two hours after consuming dairy products. Additionally, lactose intolerance in children may lead to increased gas production which in turn can lead to increased flatulence. A side effect of this increased abdominal gas is bloating and abdominal pain and cramping.
Recent studies have suggested that there is an increased incidence of chronic constipation in children who are suffering from an inability to properly digest lactose. Dairy in itself can lead to irregularity when consumed regularly. However specifically in children, it is possible that constipation and lactose intolerance may be more intimately related. There are many reasons that chronic constipation in children can occur, including dehydration and even holding their bowel movements out of anxiety. But, when constipation occurs alongside other symptoms of lactose intolerance in children, it’s worth considering that a dairy intolerance may be to blame.
The best way to determine if lactose is playing a role in a child’s digestive distress is an elimination diet. By removing dairy from the diet for a period of two weeks, it is possible to see if there is any improvement in symptoms. Following the two week restriction period, dairy can be reintroduced in small amounts. If symptoms return, it is possible that lactose intolerance may be to blame. Another way to identify lactose intolerance in children is to take them to a pediatrician for a hydrogen breath test. This simple test can quickly identify whether or not lactose may be playing a part in symptom development.
If it is determined that lactose is causing digestive woes, it can mean a challenging road in terms of finding appropriate fare that does not contain the problematic milk sugar. In fact, many refined and processed foods that are considered non dairy contain lactose, making it virtually impossible to completely eliminate all lactose from a diet. Fortunately, most of the time, lactose intolerance in children does not mean that they cannot have any lactose in any amount. It normally just means that lactose intake must be dramatically reduced in order to decrease the recurrence of symptoms.
There are many food products available now (even tasty dairy replacements) that are made with no or reduced lactose. For instance, there are a few lactose free yogurt brands that allow for the consumption of beneficial bacterial yogurt benefits without the dairy based side effects. Additionally, there are many lactose free recipes that are kid friendly, such as flourless peanut butter cookies and soymilk based smoothies and milkshakes. By sticking to these types of lactose free recipes and using them instead of their dairy based counterparts, children can still enjoy foods that are normally packed with lactose, without dealing with the side effects.
Lactose intolerance in children can be unpleasant, however discovering it in the first place is half of the battle. Observing children for when symptoms are occurring and what was eaten prior to their onset is the first step. Once lactose intolerance is suspected, the next best course of action is to involve a health care provider. Not only is this necessary to diagnose lactose intolerance in children, but also important in order to obtain advice, practical next steps and tips for symptom relief. There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but dietary changes can allow children to encounter less unpleasant symptoms while still enjoying the foods they love, even if they are made just a little bit differently.