​​​​Lactose Intolerance 

Lactose is the primary sugar in cow’s milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not make enough of an enzyme called lactase. Your body needs lactase to break down, or digest, lactose. As a result, lactose will remain in your child’s intestines causing him or her gastrointestinal problems. Rest assured that even though it can be very uncomfortable but is not life threatening. This condition is also called lactose malabsorption. Because milk does not get digested properly, your child will have a bloated stomach, will pass gas frequently and will also get diarrhoea. ​

Babies who are born prematurely sometimes can't produce adequate amounts of lactase for a while. True lactose intolerance only shows up in the grade-school or teen years. While it's possible for symptoms to appear earlier, it's very unlikely that your baby is lactose intolerant. The biggest challenge for you with your child is to understand the food items that your child will be intolerant to and yet meet the calcium requirement that your child needs for the day. However, most of the times, your child will be able to continue the intake of dairy products and still manage this disorder.​

The signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance usually begin thirty minutes to two hours after eating or drinking foods that contain lactose. Typical symptoms may include the following:

  • Your child will feel bloated

  • Your child might have diarrhoea

  • Your child will be nauseous, and sometimes, may vomit the milk out

  • Your child will have abdominal cramps

  • Your child will pass excessive gas

  • Your child will have a gurgling and rumbling sound in his or her tummy

  • Your child might throw up​​

If is important that you keep a check on your child’s diet and see if there is a trend to him or her reacting to milk intake within thirty to sixty second after consumption. If you feel it is happening repeatedly, visit a doctor at the Children’s Hospital Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital.​
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.​

Usually, lactose intolerance is diagnosed by keeping a check on your child’s dairy intake. You will need to see if the symptoms vanish with reduced intake. Additionally, following are the tests that can be conducted to diagnose this:

  • Lactose tolerance test: This test gauges your body's reaction to a liquid that contains high levels of lactose. Two hours after drinking the liquid, your child will undergo blood tests to measure the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. If your child’s glucose level doesn't rise, it means his or her body isn't properly digesting and absorbing the lactose-filled drink.

  • Hydrogen breath test: This test also requires your child to drink a liquid that contains high levels of lactose. Our doctor will then measure the amount of hydrogen in your child’s breath at regular intervals. Normally, very little hydrogen is detectable. However, if your child’s body doesn't digest the lactose, it will ferment in the colon, releasing hydrogen and other gases, which are absorbed by your intestines and eventually exhaled. Larger than normal amounts of exhaled hydrogen measured during a breath test indicate that you aren't fully digesting and absorbing lactose.

  • Stool acidity test: This test is usually performed on infants or small children, as they do not cooperate enough for other tests. If excessive lactose is present in the intestines, it is fermented which creates lactic acid and other types of acids which can be detected in stool.

These three tests mentioned above may or may not be suggested by our doctors depending on the age of your child.​​

For children with lactose intolerance, some dietary modifications will be suggested to decrease the discomfort. Your doctor will guide you to take inculcate dietary changes in your child’s diet to prevent him from exhibiting the classic symptoms of the disorder. These may include undertaking the following measures:

  • Make sure your child avoids large servings of milk at once

  • Make sure your child only has small servings of milk or dairy products only, intermittently

  • Eating and drinking lactose-reduced ice cream and milk

  • Drinking regular milk after you add a liquid or powder to it to break down the lactose

As a mother, you might face the dilemma of how to provide the right nutrients to your child in form of calcium if your child is resistant to milk, which is the highest source of calcium. The way to do this is to supplement your child’s diet with vegetables, fruits and items that are rich in calcium.

There are many non-dairy foods that contain calcium, including:

  • Calcium-fortified soy products such as soy milk, tofu, and soybeans.

  • Canned tuna and salmon

  • Broccoli, okra, kale, collards, and turnip greens

  • Calcium-fortified juices and cereals

  • Almonds​​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​


The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.