People with asthma may wonder if there is a link between their condition and consuming dairy products. This may particularly be the case if they are allergic or have an intolerance to dairy products.

Typically, eating or drinking dairy products is not a problem for people with asthma. Research has found no connection between consuming dairy and asthma.

Keep reading to learn more about asthma and dairy, as well as some ingredients and food types to avoid.

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There is no clear link between consuming dairy products and asthma.

Some research has explored this subject and has not shown a link between asthma and the consumption of dairy products.

  • A review of 10 observational studies did not find a link between a Western diet, with significant dairy consumption, and higher levels of asthma in adults.
  • A 2017 study of children aged 3–16 years found that the more frequently they consumed dairy products, the lower the rate of asthma.
  • Researchers exploring the effects of cow’s milk on respiratory function reported that acute exposure to cow’s milk did not cause coughing, wheezing, inflamed airways, or other respiratory symptoms in children.

It is common for people to say they are allergic to foods that do not agree with them, whether they have a diagnosis of a food allergy or not.

A true dairy allergy involves a specific immune system response, as with other allergies. However, some people have a lactose intolerance. This is a food sensitivity to dairy products due to an inability to digest lactose.

Dairy allergy

The way the immune system responds to products that manufacturers make from cow’s milk causes dairy allergies.

Dairy is a common allergy, affecting 2–3% of children under 3 years of age, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

The symptoms can vary from hives and swelling to digestive and respiratory symptoms.

Anaphylactic shock can also occur and can be life threatening, as it affects a person’s ability to breathe.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is due to lactose malabsorption, a condition shared by roughly 36% of people in the United States.

This condition means people have difficulty digesting lactose, which is a sugar found in milk, and products made from milk.

Not everyone who has trouble digesting lactose is lactose intolerant. Doctors reserve the term for people who show symptoms within a few hours of eating dairy products.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance are:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • bloating and gas
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting

People with asthma who are truly allergic to certain foods need to avoid eating those foods. Not doing so could trigger an immune system response and potentially life threatening asthma symptoms.

People with asthma and food allergies that a doctor has diagnosed should carry their auto-injector, or EpiPen, and inhalers with them at all times.

Common food allergens include:

  • tree nuts
  • shellfish
  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • wheat
  • soy
  • sesame seeds

Eating a well-balanced, healthful diet is particularly important for people with asthma.

Experts recommend eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fish, as these foods may all have an anti-inflammatory effect and help reduce flare-ups.

Plant-based substitutes can help meet the nutritional needs of people who do not choose to eat dairy products.

Alternatives to dairy products include:

  • substitutes for milk, such as almond or soy milks
  • yogurt made from almonds or coconut
  • cheese that combines cashews and nutritional yeast or uses a vegan recipe
  • sour cream originating from tofu

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that people with asthma tend to have low levels of vitamin D, which is often in dairy products.

People with asthma who may be avoiding dairy, for whatever reasons, should ensure they get plenty of exposure to sunshine or take a vitamin D supplement, so they get enough of this important vitamin.

Research has also shown that plant-based diets could be beneficial for people with asthma, as a plant-based diet may reduce systemic inflammation. Inflammation can cause asthma to flare and worsen symptoms.

Learn more about dairy alternatives here.

Although research has not established a link between dairy and asthma, there may be a connection between some people’s diets and their asthma symptoms

One study found a link between eating red meat daily and developing asthma.

Another study of dietary patterns found eating a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt had an association with higher rates of asthma.

People with asthma should avoid foods that cause gas.

To prevent the shortness of breath that bloating can cause, it may be advisable to avoid or limit exposure to:

  • carbonated drinks
  • beans
  • fried foods
  • garlic

People with asthma may also want to avoid foods containing sulfites or salicylates.

Sulfite-rich foods may also prompt asthma attacks, including:

  • processed meats
  • pickled foods
  • dried fruit
  • shrimp
  • asparagus
  • onions
  • red wine
  • beer
  • cider

Similarly, some people do not respond well to salicylates that may be in the following:

  • coffee
  • tea
  • aspirin
  • some spices

Research has not established a connection between consuming dairy products and asthma attacks.

However, people with asthma may have lactose intolerance or dairy allergies that still make it advisable for them to avoid these foods. In these cases, substitute dairy products are available.

Some people with asthma may want to avoid foods rich in sulfites and salicylates, as well.