A woman looks at her icecream cone and it looks back at her. Her mother is on her right side and looks at a milk carton that also looks back at her. Both of them have their other hands up in a shrugging gesture.

Is Ice Cream An Asthma Trigger?

Has anyone ever experienced tightness in their chest after eating ice cream? I do, and I cough sporadically in the 15 minutes following a modest serving of it, but I can usually practice breathing slowly rather than going into autopilot and reaching for my inhaler. As a disclaimer, it's important to note that I have been tested for food allergies, and I have none. If you think you have a milk allergy, please contact your healthcare provider.

Growing up with asthma

I grew up living with asthma and allergies, and they often played off one another. If my asthma was flaring, chances were my allergies were, too. I understand that connection. I get how hanging out at a friend’s house that had not been cleaned in who knows how long, with dogs and cats running around, led me straight to an allergic episode. My eyes would itch, my chest would tighten, and my sneezes would come fiercely and with such frequency, it was difficult for people to keep up with the “god bless you” routine. The wheezing and coughing would come next, followed by a nebulizer treatment the second I get home.

The ice cream and asthma connection

What I do not understand is the ice cream connection. Yes, you read that correctly. And if we are talking preferences, it must be the lactose-free variety because of my lactose intolerance and IBS these days. When I was young, my mother used to tell me I could not have my all-time favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream when my asthma was out of control. To be fair, my asthma was out of control often growing up. It was severe. So, I believed her claims, because she was my mother.

Mom blamed the mucus

Her explanation? The mucus. She claimed that drinking and eating dairy products would worsen the mucus trapped in my esophagus and airways, making it more difficult to have a productive cough – especially if I was suffering from an upper respiratory infection. I used to get upper respiratory infections all of the time as a child, teenager, and even into my 20s. It was like clockwork. I’d get them seasonally around my trigger seasons like fall (ragweed) and spring and early summer (grass and trees).

But did ice cream really worsen my asthma?

I’m in my late 30s now, and old enough to realize maybe mom did not know best. In fact, she was completely wrong.1 The funny thing about science and pediatric advice is it’s always changing. She meant well, and I am forever grateful for a patient single mom who juggled three kids. She probably should have thrown out that Dr. Spock book, though.

Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care was initially published in 1946, but it went on to sell millions of books by the time the American pediatrician died in the late 90s. In it, he proposed that children who have asthma should avoid milk because it could worsen respiratory conditions.1

Well, she didn’t remove milk from my diet. I was 100 percent obsessed with drinking it daily. But, she did consistently tell me not to drink it when I was having difficulty with my asthma. So, I know this isn't all about the ice cream. To this day, she stands by certain old wives’ tales and outdated medical information. I can’t really blame her. She is just running with what she’s got. However, current research tells us that dairy isn't associated with increased mucus production.2,3

A reminder about health advice

It’s important to remember that any new symptom should be brought up to your healthcare provider. If it’s new, it’s worth exploring. Steer clear of any prolonged visits with Dr. Google. That will lead you down a path of health advice not far off from the once-coveted Dr. Spock books.

As for my ice cream conundrum, I can only assume that the cold temperature itself is to blame for the sudden onset of symptoms that mimic asthma. It’s similar to when I step outside on the first cold day of the year, and it feels like my bronchial tubes have been hit with an arctic blast. The good news is it’s temporary, and I’m never giving up my lactose-free ice cream or milk.

How about you? Have you ever received odd advice about your own condition? Have you been told you have to avoid dairy even if you don't have a milk allergy?

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