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Cow’s Milk Allergy in Infants

Malaghan Institute of Medical ResearchExperts estimate about 1 in 50 babies are allergic to cow’s milk, making it one of the most common food allergies in infants. Caroline Wood talks to one mum about her experience.

Milk allergies can make life miserable for children and their parents. It is one of the most common allergies among infants and the symptoms can be distressing for caregivers especially if they occur in a very young child.

It is thought about two per cent of infants have a milk allergy – their immune system reacts to the protein in milk. Most children have mild symptoms but a small minority experience severe reactions, including anaphylaxis.

William was seven months old when he had an anaphylactic reaction to his first bottle of infant formula.

Mum Nicola Scotland, from Wellington, remembers vividly what happened next: “We were about to go to the UK for a holiday and I wanted to try William on formula so we could go to a Madonna concert while we were there. My husband was giving him his first bottle of formula, I came into the room and thought his face looked very odd, inflamed and red, it looked like hives. I said he’s having an allergic reaction and we rushed him to our local medical centre round the corner.

“On the way I noticed his breathing was becoming laboured, his head was very swollen and the glands on the back of his head were massive. I started freaking out. We ran into the reception and I said ‘my son’s having an allergic reaction, we need a doctor’. The GP came and immediately gave him adrenaline and anti-histamine and that instantly helped him to breathe.

“We were referred for a blood test, which came up as negative, but then he had a skin prick test and that showed he was allergic to dairy. We removed all dairy from William’s diet but I was able to keep on breastfeeding him. We saw a dietitian at the hospital and she was really helpful.”

Nicola found the experience of dealing with an allergic toddler very stressful: “I felt like a helicopter mum, constantly hovering in case he picked up a crumb of food, knowing it could become problematic very quickly, ” she added.

It is important to get a reliable diagnosis if you suspect your child has a milk allergy. It is usually obvious in people with an immediate reaction to dairy products but it can be confirmed by your doctor using allergy tests (skin prick or blood allergen IgE (RAST) tests. Some infants may also be allergic to other foods, such as egg or peanuts...

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Issue: Spring 2013