When a child suffers from milk allergy, their immune system reacts negatively to milk, especially cow milk. The immune system detects the protein in cow milk as foreign substances and in its effort to fend off the invaders, the body releases histamine and other chemicals which cause allergic reactions in the body.
Even in situations where the child is still breastfeeding, he may suffer a negative reaction from the dairy foods a mother consumes since milk proteins can pass through breast milk. If the baby is fed on formula, he could react to proteins from cow milk found in some formulas.
Note that milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance although it is easy to mistake one for the other.
One of the most distinctive differences between being lactose intolerant and suffering from a milk allergy is that lactose intolerance is a digestive problem whereas milk allergy involves the immune system.
In addition, milk allergies tend to appear within the first year of a child’s life when his digestive system is still developing.
On the other hand, lactose intolerance can start in childhood or even much later in adolescence and then become more noticeable in adulthood. Although milk allergy is more rare than lactose intolerance, it is still one of the most common food allergies in young kids.
The reaction to milk varies from one child to another; for instance, some kids may have a mild reaction resulting in skin rashes while others may have a more severe reaction.
Yet with many foods today made with milk and milk products, it is not easy to identify milk allergies because in many occurrences children with milk allergy develop symptoms over time rather than suddenly. Some of the visible symptoms may include:
Prolonged eczema that doesn’t seem to go away.
Skin reaction such as a scaly, itchy rash or swelling of the lips, face and around the eyes.
Digestive problems such as stomachache, vomiting, colic, diarrhoea or constipation.
Lack of weight gain.
Coughing/wheezing and difficulty when breathing.
Loose stool that may contain blood.
Signs of abdominal pain or colic-like symptoms such as excessive crying and irritability, especially after feeding.
Watery eyes and stuffy nose.
Running nose or blocked nose.
Managing milk allergy
A doctor will first carry out a physical examination on your child and then do a stool test or a blood sample to confirm if the child is suffering from milk allergy and give a remedy.
Some children outgrow milk allergy by the time they are about one year old, but for the majority, the condition does not completely disappear until the age of three years.
However, if a child does not outgrow it, the pediatrician will eliminate all dairy products from the child’s diet.
Since milk has vital nutrients necessary for the child’s growth, it is important to seek advice from a nutritionist on what to replace milk with in your child’s diet to ensure he is not missing out on the vital nutrients. The doctor may also suggest a hydrolysate formula where the milk proteins are partly broken down, making it less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Published March 2017