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Could Cow's Milk Be Causing My Throat Problems?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 14 Aug 2017 | comments*Discuss
Throat Sore Throat Throat Polyps Lactose


I have a problem with having constantly to clear my throat. Not having a cold or sore throat I don't know why this is happening. Every day, normally in the mornings, I really have to strain to clear what feels like thick phlegm from my throat.

Other members of my family have the same problem. It manifests itself by having to clear one's throat several times during a conversation. My wife thinks it's a nervous affliction but I can assure you that it isn't and that there is something there that has to be cleared by reflex action.

Someone else said it could be caused by a drinking cow's milk. Do you know what it could be?

(P.G, 13 April 2009)


This is a very difficult question to answer and we can only really give you some general advice. To be more confident that you have found the cause of the problem you really need to go and see your own doctor about this so that they can carry out a physical examination.

First of all, it could be a nervous habit, as your wife suggests and it may be that other members of your family have the same habit. Constantly straining, as you put it, to clear your throat will cause the throat to become inflamed and sore - and one result of this is that the secretions are increased. It could be a cycle of throat clearing, more mucus, more throat clearing.

But, there could also be some underlying problem in the throat. Throat polyps are very common and are found on the vocal cords. Clearing the throat very strenuously can irritate the vocal cords and polyps can form, which then add to the sensation of needing to clear the throat.

This is something that you doctor could check out very easily by looking at your throat with an endoscope.

It is also possible that you have a post nasal drip. This is where you have a problem more in your nose, maybe a chronic sinusitis. Mucus drips down the back of the nose into the throat and causes phlegm to build up, which then causes you to need to clear your throat. This is something else that your doctor could check out.

With regard to cow's milk, it is relatively common for people to have lactose intolerance, which is an allergy to the sugar in cow's milk. However, although food allergies can cause the throat to swell, lactose intolerance usually causes other symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea. If you don't suffer from any of these, it seems unlikely that you have a problem with cow's milk. However, this theory is easy to test - if you avoid cow's milk for a period of time - say three weeks - and monitor each day how your throat is, you should get a good idea whether cow's milk may be contributing.

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I've been getting this but it's so unpredictable. My skin has always broken out after having dairy, particularly milk even if it's in tea and cream. Occasional D and sweaty before a bowel movement but again, not always, when having milk. But I'm OK with cheese and butter. I think the reason for this is that milk itself has more lactose, and we have less of the enzyme needed to break down lactose as we age. Gut bacteria also play a role. Cheese and yoghurt have good bacteria on them depending on the brand, and with lactobacilus bacteria in them, it makes it easier to ingest the milk. I hope this information helps!
M - 14-Aug-17 @ 9:16 PM
Cow's milk did give me throat infections. It was very hard to track down. They took a culture of my throat to see what kind of bacterial infection I had, it showed a bacteria that is only found in the intestines. My Dr came to the conclusion that there is probably trace amounts of feces in my milk and I am sensitive to it more than others. I can't drink any brand of milk except Homeland. Borden gave me the worst infection.
Sara - 10-Jun-17 @ 5:51 PM
I have has very similar experiences over the last four years. As a teenager I would drink full cream custard, yoghurt and ice cream by the litre, and had a large bowl of cereal with (skim) milk every morning. I loved diary. Quite separately I would always get a sessional cold which would start as a sore throat then normally end up as a chest infection. Stopped going to the doctor after a while, would just take a day off near the start and normally cleared in a week. I'm now 26 and over the past four years I have found that (cows) milk causes me to have a sore throat where it feels like there's excess phlegm in the back of my throat. At first I only seemed to need to avoid milk when I was recovering a cold or when I felt like my immune system was "down", but now it's more often than not. I never get any other symptoms, just the thick gluggy throat. drinking soy milk and gargling salt water when I do indulge in diary seems to manage it - but I'd love to know what the root cause is and if I could still enjoy my beloved diary once more.
Andrew - 5-Jan-15 @ 8:44 AM
I feel I have two lumps in the centre of my throat on either side. My glands could be swollen
me - 1-Mar-14 @ 11:56 PM
very interesting! I am suffering right nowfrom the cold symptoms followed by sore throat due to the drinking milk as a last meal night and as its not my first time, so i could conclude that drinking milk exactly before I sleep without brushing my teeth or gargling after that causes sore throat to me.I googled it to know is there any scientific reason behind this and I found these posts.for me it may be followed by fever and headache and cold symptoms depends on the situation but one thing that is never changed is soar throat and mild phlegm which is definitively there if i drink milk exactly before I sleep.so you can try to prevent drinking milk exactly before sleeping or gargling mild salty water solution after that if you drink it. hopefully it works for you.
fine - 7-Jul-12 @ 8:02 AM
First--allergy to cow's milk and lactose intolerance are not the same thing.Lactose intolerance is not a food allergy but rather a sensitivity to cow's milk.With a true food allergy you will get some serious reactions besides just uncomfortable pain in tummy when drinking or diarrhea it-as in lactose intolerance.2nd- Google--"Dangers of Cow's Milk" and you will get literally hundreds of websites outlining all the dangers and problems associated with Cow's Milk.If you have any kind of health problem where your immune system is weakened you should not be drinking cow's milk.Third- The Cow Milk industry is a powerful one (much like the tobacco industry was before it was castrated years ago). They will put out misinformation which will lead people to conclude that cow's milk is actually good for them when it is not.The milk you get nowadays at the grocery store is very different than the cow's milk your parents and their parents consumed. Antibiotics, hormones you name it.Fourth-- Do a test. Stop drinking and ingesting all forms of cow milk products for two weeks and see how you feel. I can almost guarantee you will feel amazingly better and many of your symptoms would either subside or disappear.Eliminate yogurt, butter, cows milk, cheese etc.If you feel you can't do without these for two weeks then consider using the following: Soy, Almond, Rice or Goat Milk. Soy cheese, Feta cheese, other goat cheese. Soy yogurt or yogurt made from goat milk.Soy pizza tastes incredible by the way.
Jax - 17-May-12 @ 7:22 PM
I have had this awful problem of phlegm in my throat for about 3 years now and it has gradually got worse and worse, I was almost finding it impossible to clear no matter how much caughing, it was really ruining my life, making all these strange throat noises just to try to clear it. I have taken dairy out of my diet for 3 weeks now and it's getting better and better, I was actually able to sing in church this morning! It's still there slightly but a little caugh shifts it now, I am expecting it to clear completely and when it does I am going to try goats milk in my tea which is the thing I miss the most, although i am getting very used to fruit and camomile tea. I have my porridge with rice milk which tastes better than with cow milk.
Kris - 4-Mar-12 @ 8:19 PM
I had exactly those symptoms for several years. When it was bad it almost made me gag, but usually it was just manifested by repeated throat clearing and a feeling of thick mucus in the back of my throat. After six months of trial and error, including an allergy test (which wrongly suggested gluten intolerance), visit to the doctor (he wrongly suggested asthma), and changes to my diet I eventually isolated cow's milk as the cause. Since giving up cow's milk the symptoms have gone, but I only have to eat a pizza, or take milk in my tea for the symptoms to return. (It usually takes 24-48 hours for my symptoms to develop) Interestingly, goat's and sheep's milk is OK and I can eat goat's cheese and feta without problems. I've no idea why it should just be cow's milk but there you go.
Alex - 29-Jun-11 @ 10:17 AM
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