Ice cream is synonymous with the spring and summer seasons. But for a kid that’s lactose intolerant, indulging in that cool, creamy treat can cause complications to her health.
If your child is experiencing some strange stomach pains post ice cream – or other dairy – intake, she might be lactose intolerant. Here, a local expert weighs in on lactose intolerance in kids and how can you help your child cope.
How it develops
Lactose intolerance, says Dr. Devang Doshi, an adult and pediatric immunologist with Beaumont Children’s in Royal Oak, occurs when the body cannot produce, or cannot produce enough of, the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar (lactose) in dairy products.
“If for whatever reason the production of the enzyme is low or missing, there’s a problem with digesting,” he says. “If we can’t digest it, the sugar is too big to absorb by itself. So bloating, gas and diarrhea will happen whenever products with lactose are consumed.”
Doshi says some people, especially certain Asian populations, are predisposed to lactose intolerance, while in other cases the intolerance might occur after a bout of sickness.
“A lot of times younger kids will develop it after a stomach infection, like a stomach flu,” he says. “They’ll get diarrhea and then develop a temporary lactose intolerance. The ability to make that enzyme is lost when you have that infection.”
This is one of the reasons, he says, parents are discouraged from feeding their children dairy products after a run-in with the flu.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance in kids
There are a few ways to detect lactose intolerance in kids.
“If we notice symptoms with bloating or loose stools, we would suspect it,” Doshi says. “If we switched or stopped giving dairy, the symptoms go away fairly quickly.”
Other symptoms of lactose intolerance in kids include skin rash and frequent colds, gas and abdominal pain and cramping, the Cleveland Clinic adds.
“The easiest way to know if your child has a lactose intolerance is to cut out dairy for a few days and see if the condition improves,” he adds.
Another way to test for lactose intolerance is a stool test or a hydrogen breath test, wherein a person consumes lactose and breathes into a machine, which tells the physician if the patient is a lactose malabsorber.
For infants who are breastfeeding, Doshi says lactose intolerance isn’t an issue, since the milk sugars have already been broken down. If lactose intolerance is suspected in infants consuming a formula with dairy, Doshi says the easiest thing to do is switch to a dairy-free formula like a soy-based option.
If a parent suspects a child may be lactose intolerant, he recommends a trip to the pediatrician to determine the next step in managing the intolerance.
How to cope
Doshi says there are many food alternatives to dairy, so patients’ lives are not heavily affected by the lactose intolerance diagnosis.
“There are lactose-free dairy products now,” he says. “There’s milk that is lactose-free, and the taste is not different, and it can be used in cooking. There are ice creams, too.”
He says people can switch out dairy milk with soy, almond or cashew milk, and replace dairy yogurt with coconut milk yogurt. There’s even a dairy-free coffee creamer choice for adults.
If going dairy-free isn’t an option, there’s also a pill containing the enzyme lactase sold without a prescription, he adds.
“They do sell over-the-counter enzyme replacement like a chewable tablet,” he says. “They take those supplements right with their meal. That generally works for 90 percent of those with lactose intolerance.”
People with lactose intolerance can carry on a normal life, he adds, if they take that supplement with a meal.
And that’s good news for lactose intolerant ice creams lovers everywhere.