Cheese allergies are caused by an adverse reaction in the body that occurs upon ingestion, causing Immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies to recognize chemicals, proteins or mold found in cheese as harmful substances. Antibodies defend the body by releasing chemical histamines to fight against the cheese allergen. Histamine production causes inflammation of the nasal passages, lungs, sinuses, ears, eyes and skin, leading to allergic reactions that result in an array of cheese-allergy symptoms.
People suffering from allergies to outdoor molds and penicillin are susceptible to developing cross-reactive allergies to aged cheeses, such as gorgonzola and asiago, containing mold. Symptoms of aged-cheese allergies commonly produce oral allergy syndrome symptoms identified by tickling, itching or burning sensations on the lips, tongue, mouth and throat that are triggered within five minutes of ingestion and may be accompanied by skin irritation, facial swelling, sinus pressure, congestion, sneezing, allergic conjunctivitis and asthma.
Tyramine is a chemical found in fermented foods. This amino acid stimulates histamine responses in allergic individuals with chemical sensitivities, resulting in excess levels of histamine circulating throughout the body and aggravating pre-existing symptoms or causing reactions such as congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, hives, increased heart beat, headaches, high blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Tyramine is found in processed cheeses, soy-based cheeses and aged cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano, asiago, Brie, American, Roquefort, Gouda, provolone and Colby.
Dairy allergies such as those to milk and cheese cause reactions due to allergenic proteins that the body can’t process. Cheese contains casein and whey, with casein being the primary trigger for cheese allergies, especially in harder cheeses. Dairy cheese allergies cause symptoms of lethargy, inattention, black under-eye circles, itchy rashes, hives, eczema, digestive discomfort indicated by nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea and respiratory problems such as congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, sore throat and asthma attacks.
People with lactose intolerance suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms that mimic certain dairy allergy symptoms such as bloating, cramping, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea, often causing the conditions to be confused. Lactose intolerance occurs due to lactase deficiencies in the digestive system, making the body unable to produce enzymes needed to digest lactose contained in dairy products. Doctors perform breath tests to diagnose or eliminate the possibility of lactose intolerance, which is helpful in diagnosing and treating dairy allergies.
Cheese allergies are most effectively treated by avoiding triggers. Keeping a log of symptoms can help determine the allergen source, while reactions to other foods may give insight into whether a dairy allergy or chemical allergy exists. Ricotta and cottage cheese may be substituted into a diet for those allergic to mold and tyramine, as neither contain active allergen ingredients. Cheese allergy symptoms can be treated with oral and topical antihistamines, inhalers and corticosteroids.