Cows’ milk allergy is a common food allergy in infants and children. In Australia and New Zealand around 2% of infants are allergic to cows’ milk and dairy products1. Cow’s milk allergy occurs when the immune system over-reacts to one or more proteins present in cows’ milk1.
Cows’ milk is often one of the first foods to be introduced into the diet. Most infant formulas are based on cows’ milk, so bottle fed infants will be exposed to cows’ milk protein at a very early age. Cows’ milk is also commonly consumed throughout childhood as part of a balanced diet. Those children that have cows’ milk allergy, therefore, will often see symptoms very early on.
Occasionally, exclusively breast-fed infants may also react to cows’ milk protein. This is due to the cows’ milk protein consumed in the mother’s diet, passing through the breast milk, from mother to infant2. In this situation, the mother may be required to eliminate dairy and foods containing cows’ milk protein from her diet4, however this should be done under advice from your medical specialist.
The symptoms of cows’ milk allergy are varied and may affect many parts of the body. When someone with cows’ milk allergy consumes cows’ milk protein it triggers the body’s immune system to release a large amount of chemicals into the blood stream. This can cause symptoms that affect the skin, breathing and/or digestive system. These symptoms can include skin rash, eczema, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhoea or excessive crying. The reactions can occur very rapidly (for example severe breathing problems or vomiting), however they may also be delayed. Reactions such as a skin rash or diarrhoea may take up to 3-5 days to appear after consumption of cows’ milk protein.
Complete avoidance of cows’ milk protein is the only treatment for cows’ milk allergy.
If you have found one or more symptoms that match what your child is experiencing, the questions listed in the Symptom Checklist will help you to find out if a food allergy could be the cause. Answering these questions will bring you closer to determining if and how your child is affected but please don’t hesitate to discuss the test results with your child’s healthcare professional.
In Australia and New Zealand around 2% of infants are allergic to cows’ milk and dairy products
- ASCIA, 2016, Cow’s milk (dairy) allergy Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, viewed 6 May 2016, http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/cows-milk-dairy-allergy
- Anderson, March 2014, Breastfeeding and food sensitivities Australian Breastfeeding Association, viewed 6 May 2016, https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastfeeding-and-food-sensitivities-0
- NHMRC 2012 Australian Infant feeding guidelines: Information for health workers National Health and Medical Research Council, viewed 6 May 2016, https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n56
- ASCIA, 2016 Dietary Avoidance- cow’s milk protein (dairy) allergy, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, viewed 6 May 2016, http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/ascia-dietary-avoidance-for-food-allergy