Milk Allergy? - What You Need to Know
Here in Ireland we love a good glass milk and every yummy think it can turn into. That's a fact. Also we don't want our little ones to miss out on all the goodies that are not only tasty but provide them with much needed calcium, proteins and vitamins.
But there's something you should know.
2 to 7.5% of infants suffer from a milk protein allergy.
The allergic reaction happens when a baby's immune system responds abnormally to milk or milk products. Usually the cow's milk is the main culprit in that case.
It is worth noting that milk protein allergy is the most common allergy compared to other food allergies. First your little one is either exclusively breastfeeding, supplementing with cow's milk or formula and other foods are out of the picture. For this reason, most infants present symptoms before 6 and 7 months of life.
In this article, we will discuss everything there is to know about milk protein allergies.
Milk Protein Intolerance
Parents most of the time confuse between milk allergy and milk protein intolerance. So, let's shed some light on the issue before we dig into it! Milk Intolerance is a different kind of reaction to a cow's milk protein. Cow's milk contains a natural sugar known as lactose. When your baby's gut can't digest the sugar, it's referred to as a milk protein intolerance.
The symptoms are usually short-lived and include; diarrhea, wind, vomiting, stomach pains, and rumbling. Unlike in a milk protein allergy, the symptoms are not consistent with every feeding. Your child could temporarily suffer intolerance if they had a tummy bug recently.
Again, with milk protein intolerance, not all milk products affect your child. They can feed on some products without presenting any symptoms. It's your responsibility as a parent to make sure your bundle of joy takes small amounts of milk products, especially if they have suffered from intolerance before.
How Do I Know if My Baby Has a Protein Intolerance?
If your baby has milk protein intolerance, they will present some or all the symptoms. In most cases, a child with milk intolerance suffers from diarrhea, gets fussy after feeding, has frequent loose stools, and may have bloody stool. You may not see the blood with a naked eye, but should you suspect the condition, you can have your baby examined by a GP.
It our job as parent to make observations and report. We don't recommend taking drastic actions like adjusting your child's diet without consulting a qualified professional firt.
If you suspect your child has a milk protein allergy, you can get them tested by an allergist to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan if they sure do have it. A proper diagnosis helps rule out any other health issues that may present similar symptoms.
GP, allergists, or other relevant health professionals attending to you may ask you about your family history with intolerance or milk protein allergy. You want to find a solution, so be honest and give as much information as they need from you. They might also conduct a physical exam.
Allergy diagnosis has no single test is sufficient. Don't panic if the doctor requests several tests, including a skin allergy test, stool, and blood test. In some cases, the doctor might request oral challenge tests conducted when it's safe within the hospital to allow them to make observations for any milk allergic reactions. To confirm a diagnosis, the doctor may request repeat tests. Yes, it can be cumbersome, but you can rest assured to leave the clinic with answers.
What are the signs of Milk Allergy in Infants?
Milk protein allergy symptoms vary from those for intolerance. With milk allergies, the symptoms are divided into two categories depending on the type of allergy an infant has. Some allergic reactions occur soon after feedings, in a matter of hours, while others present weeks after you introduce your child to milk or milk products.
Additionally, these symptoms range from severe to mild. Each child may present different allergy symptoms from the other.
More immediate milk protein allergy symptoms include;
- Swelling of the throat, tongue, and lips
- Feeling tingly or itchy around the mouth or lips
- Shortness of breath or coughing
Symptoms that may present after a long time include;
- Abdominal cramps
- Watery eyes
- Diarrhea, loose stool, or bloody stool
- Runny nose
Anaphylaxis is the most severe symptom worth paying more attention to. It refers to an emergency life-threatening medical condition as a result of the consumption of milk. It’s common with other foods like peanuts and tree nuts. Milk comes third.
During Anaphylaxis, your child's airways and throat narrow, blocking breathing. These reactions require immediate treatment using adrenaline shots. The conditions present a series of symptoms which include;
- Facial flashing
- Swollen throat and constriction of airways causing breathing difficulties
- Dropped blood pressure that leads to shock
How Long Does Milk Allergy Last?
Milk protein allergy affects at least 7% of infants. Luckily, most babies present mild conditions, and upto 90% of them outgrow it by the age of 3 to 6 years. Some kids may not outgrow it until they are adolescents, and others have it permanently.
What Is the Difference Between Milk Allergy and Milk Intolerance?
Milk protein allergy symptoms may present immediately or a few days after consuming milk or milk products, while milk protein intolerance symptoms present a few hours later.
Milk protein allergy involves the body's immune system, while intolerance involves the gastrointestinal system.
Milk protein allergies can persist throughout infancy and are in some cases lifelong, while milk protein intolerance can get triggered temporarily by a recent tummy bug.
How common is Milk Intolerance in Babies?
In Northern Europe- including Ireland- lactose intolerance in infants is very rare. Only between 2 and 5% of the infants get diagnosed with the condition. Generally speaking, adults suffer lactose intolerance more than infants.
Can a Baby be Lactose Intolerant to breast milk?
Yes, a baby can be lactose intolerant even when exclusively breastfed. Since lactose intolerance is the inability to digest sugars in the milk, your baby can have it if their gut can't produce enough lactase enzymes as yet to digest the milk.
All mammals have lactose in their milk. A child with fewer lactase enzymes in their gut suffers lactose intolerant regardless of whether the mother takes dairy products or not.