Common cows’ milk allergy symptoms

It’s not always easy to spot the symptoms of food allergies – even for doctors. Diagnosis of cow’s milk allergy (CMA) can be difficult as the symptoms are also common to many other conditions seen in infants and children.
Cows’ milk allergy symptoms may occur immediately or the reaction may be delayed1.  Immediate reactions occur within minutes to two hours after consumption of cow’s milk protein (the protein found in cow’s milk).  These reactions are generally quiet obvious and therefore easy to diagnose. They can be confirmed with allergy testing. Symptoms can include1,2:

  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Face swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Noisy breathing or wheeze
  • Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) may cause floppiness in babies

Delayed reactions to cow’s milk may take several hours to days to appear.  They are less obvious and this makes diagnosis more difficult for these infants and children.  Allergy tests are also not often useful in these cases.  The following may be clues to a delayed reaction to cow’s milk2

  • Eczema
  • Diarrhoea
  • Colic
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Reluctance to feed

As there can be many causes of these symptoms, diagnosis of CMA can take time.  This period can be difficult not only for the child but for the parents too. So what can you do if you suspect your child may be allergic to cow’s milk?

  1. Make an appointment with your child’s doctor

Reliable diagnosis of CMA is important. The doctor will be able to assess your child’s symptoms and rule out other causes. They will also be able to refer you onto an allergy specialist if necessary

  1. Get the facts

Find out a little more about CMA – this website is a good place to start. It will give you confidence when talking to healthcare professionals and tell-tale signs to be aware of.

  1. Keep a diary

The more familiar you are with your child’s symptoms, the easier it will be for a CMA diagnosis to be made. A good way to do this is to keep a daily diary of your baby’s diet and symptoms. This can sometimes be difficult if reactions are delayed but it is nevertheless a good place to start.

  1. Trust your instincts

Often parents will have a ‘sixth sense’ when something is out of the ordinary. Nobody knows your baby as well as you do, so trust your parental instinct when deciding if further action is called for.

 

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.

 

Delayed reactions to cow’s milk may take several hours to days to appear.  They are less obvious and this makes diagnosis more difficult for these infants and children

 

 

  1. ASCIA, March 2016, Cow’s milk (dairy) allergy Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, viewed 18 May 2016, http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/cows-milk-dairy-allergy
  2. Vandenplas et al 2007 ‘Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of cow’s milk protein allergy in infants’ Arch Dis Child Vol 92 pp: 902-908