The truth behind cow’s milk allergy in infants

cow's milk

The truth behind cow’s milk allergy in infants

A few minutes ago your child consumed their first-ever bottle of cow’s milk-based formula. But now you watch as your baby screams, vomits, and develops skin irritations. You frantically search your mind for the reason behind your child’s onset of symptoms. It’s highly likely that your baby has a cow’s milk allergy, which is a common ailment amongst newborns and babies. However, there are two major types of allergies in babies: IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated. As a parent, it’s important to understand the differences between IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated reactions.

What are the causes behind your child’s cow’s milk allergy?

During IgE-mediated reaction to milk, the IgE antibodies on allergy cells (mast cell) bind to milk. This propels the cell to unleash a variety of allergic mediators, that cause swelling, rashes and even dangerous systemic reactions. These can occur within minutes of your child consuming cow’s milk. Some children experience a non-IgE-mediated reaction, which results in a slower onset of symptoms resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms.

The difference between IgE-mediated and non-IgE allergies

As mentioned, IgE-mediated allergies cause your child to react within minutes of consuming cow’s milk. Whereas non-IgE reactions see delays of hours or even days. IgE-mediated allergies are easy to recognise, as your child will likely vomit, break out in hives, and develop eczema. The most dangerous is that the child can have a massive reaction known as anaphylaxis.

If your child has a non-IgE reaction, it will be less severe, but pretty troublesome and should be taken seriously. Your child will experience gastrointestinal issues, skin irritations, and possible respiratory problems. In milder cases, a non-IgE allergy to cow’s milk may be confused with lactose intolerance. With this in mind, it is important to note that lactose intolerance in children is usually secondary (associated with some other digestive problem) and affects the bowels (diarrhoea, bloating, pain) because the child is unable to digest the sugar in milk: lactose.

Have no fear! Your child will likely grow out of his or her cow’s milk allergy. But, for now, there is a high chance that you just want to learn how to stop your baby from vomiting all over the carpet. For those with IgE-mediated allergies, it is advised that you switch your baby’s formula to EHF (Extensively Hydrolyzed Formula) or AAF (Amino Acid Formula). If you are breastfeeding, it is essential that you cut out all cow’s milk from your diet. However, before anything, please have your child tested for allergies.

How can you fix it?

The process of adjusting to your child’s non-IgE-mediated allergy depends on its severity. If your child has more serious symptoms, it’s recommended that you follow a similar procedure to the above.

Mothers breastfeeding children with mild non-IgE-mediated allergies can try the process of cutting cow’s milk from their diet. If your child shows no symptoms, you can slowly bring cow’s milk back into your diet. When the child doesn’t react to cow’s milk, they are unlikely to have an allergy at this point. If the symptoms reappear after you add cow’s milk back into your diet, then it is crucial that you eliminate all cow’s milk from your diet yet again. Your child’s symptoms will likely fade as you do, which is a telltale sign that they do have an allergy. Bring your baby to an allergy consultant for testing, before giving any cow’s milk.

Parents who choose to use formula rather than breastfeed can follow a similar route, except you will use an eHF formula for the elimination phase and a cow’s milk-based formula instead of you, yourself consuming cow’s milk.

It is important to note that a cow’s milk allergy is the most common allergy among newborns and your child will most likely grow out of it. However, should problems persist or you would like some help and advice, please book an appointment with our consultants on our website. If you would like further information, click here to find more about food allergy in children and young people from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

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