If you’re lactose intolerant, you may experience acid reflux symptoms from dairy. While dairy doesn’t typically trigger reflux, some people may get it after eating high fat foods.

High fat foods, including some types of dairy, may cause symptoms of acid reflux in some people. The link may be more pronounced if you have lactose intolerance or consume a lot of high fat foods in the same meal.

If you’re lactose intolerant, usually, avoiding foods that contain lactose is enough to ease your symptoms. It’s important to note, though, that lactose intolerance doesn’t directly cause heartburn or acid reflux. It’s the other symptoms that may or may not aggravate your reflux.

If you’re not lactose intolerant, consuming dairy may not significantly affect your acid reflux symptoms.

According to a 2022 study involving people with metabolic syndrome, consuming 3.3 servings of low fat or full fat dairy per day did not result in worse heartburn compared with participants who consumed three servings of nonfat dairy per day.

However, eating high fat foods may trigger or worsen acid reflux, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. To digest fats, the body typically needs to produce more bile.

Other behaviors can contribute to acid reflux. You may experience symptoms after eating dairy if you:

  • eat it as part of a large meal
  • eat it with other trigger foods, such as spicy or fried foods
  • combine dairy with caffeine
  • lay down after eating
  • eat within 3 hours of going to bed

Many of these behaviors can lead to acid reflux on their own.

According to a 2024 study, eating dairy may even help with GERD if you do not have lactose intolerance.

If you think dairy may contribute to your acid reflux symptoms, consider keeping a food diary where you note what you ate and any symptoms you had.

Read more about the symptoms of acid reflux.

If you’re lactose intolerant and consume dairy, you may experience a wide range of digestive symptoms, including heartburn. Lactose intolerance occurs if you do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose (the sugar in milk).

Lactose intolerance may cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping
  • nausea

However, these symptoms can occur with many other digestive conditions. A 2022 study notes that people may believe themselves to have lactose intolerance without having any diagnostic tests. This can delay the diagnosis of other health conditions and may contribute to nutritional deficiencies if you cut dairy out of your diet unnecessarily.

If you believe you may have lactose intolerance or acid reflux, it’s best to talk with a doctor and get an accurate diagnosis.

Learn about testing for acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Many people can consume dairy without having any adverse side effects. However, some people may experience intolerances and allergies to a wide range of foods, including dairy.

Milk allergy, most common in children but still present in adults, can carry severe side effects beyond acid reflux. If you suspect you or your child has a dairy allergy, you should seek immediate medical attention. A severe allergic reaction to dairy may lead to anaphylaxis, which can potentially be fatal.

If someone is experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, contact 911 or your local emergency services.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • skin rash and hives
  • swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Keeping a food diary may help you determine if eating dairy triggers or worsens your reflux symptoms.

It’s best to talk with a doctor if your acid reflux happens more than twice a week over an extended period. Frequent acid reflux episodes may indicate GERD, which can potentially lead to other health conditions over time.

A doctor can recommend a treatment plan for you.

Read more about how doctors treat acid reflux.