This factsheet has been written to help you understand and gain some advice on suspected cow’s milk allergy in babies...
What are the symptoms?
In general, the reaction begins around 2–4 hours after eating the trigger food. The child develops profuse vomiting, often followed by diarrhoea or loose stools which can last for several days. Occasionally a shorter time frame may be seen. In the most severe FPIES reactions, vomiting and diarrhoea can cause serious dehydration. These children may become pale, floppy, have reduced body temperature and/or blood pressure during a reaction. These children may be mistaken as having an infection, as their blood tests may show an increased white cell count which is often seen in infection.
FPIES is not caused by IgE antibodies, so children experiencing reactions do not develop itchy swollen skin, rashes or facial swelling. However, it is possible for a child with FPIES to also have other allergies including food allergies which do involve IgE antibodies.
Sometimes, children with FPIES have more mild reactions, and if they continue to eat the trigger foods, the allergy can result in poor growth.
What foods can trigger FPIES?
The most common triggers are cows’ milk (dairy), soy, grains and egg. However, almost any food can cause an FPIES reaction, including meat (such as chicken and turkey), fish,, vegetables and fruit.
Some children have FPIES to more than one food protein. For example, some children reactive to cows’ milk have been noted to react to soy and some reactive to rice have also reacted to oats.
There is no allergy test which can confirm a diagnosis of FPIES. Skin tests and blood tests to measure IgE levels do not help, as the reaction is not caused by IgE antibody. This can make FPIES difficult to diagnose. Your doctor may recommend an oral food challenge when the history is not clear, or if foods from a similar food group are being introduced into the diet of a child who has FPIES. These challenges should always take place under specialist supervision in a hospital.
The only treatment for FPIES is to avoid the trigger food. Your doctor will advise as to how to alter the diet to achieve this, and you may receive advice from a dietitian if the foods to be removed include a major food group.
There is no specific treatment for a child during an FPIES reaction. However, sometimes intravenous (IV) fluids will be required, due to the dehydration. If the vomiting is ongoing an anti-sickness medicine called Ondansetron may be used to help. In addition, sometimes a steroids are given to treat severe reactions. Most families of children with FPIES will be given a letter to present to emergency departments explaining their child’s condition and the appropriate treatment.
There is no role for the use of adrenaline devices in the management of FPIES.
Does FPIES resolve?
Most children outgrow FPIES by the time they are about three to four years of age. The best way to determine whether a child has outgrown their FPIES is for them to have an oral food challenge; this should always take place under specialist supervision in a hospital. This challenge normally takes several hours as reactions can occur several hours after eating the culprit food.