Cow's Milk Allergy

On this page you will find information on suspected Cow’s Milk Allergy in babies and children and how to create a cow's milk free diet for your baby.

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What is a cow’s milk allergy?

Cow’s milk allergy (also known as cow’s milk protein allergy or CMPA) is an abnormal response by the body’s immune (defence) system in which proteins in a food (in this case cow’s milk) are recognised as a potential threat. This can cause the immune system to be ‘sensitised’. When this happens, there is the potential that when cow’s milk is consumed the immune system remembers this protein and may react to it by producing allergic symptoms.

Whilst cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies to affect babies and young children in the United Kingdom it is still rare. Formula fed babies, although very rarely, breastfed babies can also be affected. Allergic symptoms to CMPA can happen immediately after feeding or they can be delayed. In the case of immediate symptoms such as swelling of the lips or the tongue or breathing difficulties, immediate medical help must be sought.

Types of cow’s milk allergy

There are two types of cow’s milk allergy depending on how the immune system reacts. Symptoms that are ‘immediate’ (quick to appear) are caused by the immunoglobulin E antibody (called IgE). Typically these allergic symptoms happen within minutes of consuming cow’s milk or up to two hours afterwards. This type of reaction is described as IgE mediated food allergy.

The other type of milk allergy happens when symptoms are ‘delayed’ (slow to appear) and are caused by a different part of the immune system reacting in a different way. This type of reaction is described as Non-IgE mediated food allergy and is the most common type. The symptoms typically develop from two hours after consumption but can take up to 72 hours. If cow’s milk continues to be consumed in the diet, the immune system will continue to produce such symptoms over days or even weeks.

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Allergy UK’s Dietitian Service

Allergy UK’s Dietitian Service provides specialist allergy advice to help inform and guide parents of children from 0-5 years old who are presenting symptoms of food allergy, and have not been referred to a dietitian.

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Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy

Symptoms of CMPA often start in the early weeks and months of life. There are many possible symptoms which may suggest your baby has a cow’s milk allergy. Allergic symptoms can affect one or more of the body’s systems, including the skin, digestive and, less commonly, breathing or blood circulation. Allergic symptoms may be called mild, moderate or severe. However, it is important to note that some of these symptoms, such as reflux, colic and constipation are commonly seen in this young age group.

Ongoing support for cow’s milk allergy

Your GP is responsible for the diagnosis process and for providing ongoing care, with support from a dietitian for any confirmed mild-to-moderate type of delayed onset Non-IgE mediated cow’s milk allergy. They will usually advise referral of any suspected severe Non-IgE mediated and all suspected immediate onset IgE mediated milk allergy to a children’s specialist allergy service.

Fortunately, most children will grow out of their cow’s milk allergy in early childhood. Until that happens, your GP or allergy specialist will work with you, usually with the supporting help of a dietitian, to ensure that your child remains healthy whilst excluding all forms of cow’s milk from their diet.

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Kate and Eben's Story

Kate found out that her firstborn, Eben, had a cow's milk allergy, after he suffered from a reaction following a few spoonful's of yoghurt. The experience was terrifying for new mum Kate.

There are still unacceptable delays in children receiving a diagnosis, with 43 per cent of cases waiting more than three months and 15 per cent visiting their GP ten times before a diagnosis. – Parent Survey Results.

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