Milk Allergy

1 What is Milk Allergy?

Milk allergy is a common type of food allergy in children, characterized by an exaggerated immune response to proteins in animal milk and products containing milk. This is different from lactose intolerance, a condition in which the body is unable to digest milk. Milk is one of the leading cause of food allergies in children.

Symptoms range from mild skin irritation to severe anaphylactic reactions. Children with this allergy should avoid all dairy products and food containing milk. They may need other supplements for vitamins and minerals.

Most of the children outgrow milk allergy within few years. 

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of milk allergy may develop within few minutes or after few days of having milk or milk products. Those who respond slowly to milk have abdominal pain, diarrhea, skin rash, cough, sinus infection, and running nose as symptoms. These children may fail to gain weight at the normal rate. Faster response to milk allergy have vomiting, hives, and wheezing as major symptoms. 

In some rare cases, milk may produce anaphylactic reaction as the symptoms. The child will have symptoms like 

  • Swelling in throat and mouth
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Itching
  • Facial flushing

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and children with this response should be given immediate medical attention. 

3 Causes

Milk allergy is caused by an exaggerated immune response to the proteins present in milk. The immune system considers milk proteins as harmful, and produces antibodies against it. During the next exposure to these allergens, antibodies trigger the release of histamines. Histamines are responsible for the development of various symptoms.

Casein and whey are the two main proteins that elicit an allergic response. These proteins are usually present in processed foods as well. Hence it is important to identify the hidden sources of these proteins and avoid them to prevent the symptoms of milk allergy. 

Products containing caseinates, hydrolysed casein, skimmed milk, skimmed milk powder, milk solids, non-fat milk, whey, whey syrup sweetener, milk sugar solids, and lactose should be avoided. Some of the processed foods that contain milk and milk products include

  • Pasta and pizza
  • Baked products
  • Sauces
  • Pancakes
  • Custards and puddings
  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Chocolate and confectionery
  • Crisps
  • Baby foods
  • Soups

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of milk allergy is done by performing several tests.

Signs and symptoms, and physical examination reveals the culprit of allergic reaction. Symptoms of milk allergy appear within a short period after having milk or any dairy products. 

Skin prick test – in this test, small amounts of allergen extracts are placed on the palm and the skin pricked using a probe, allowing the extract to seep into the skin. Formation of small, reddish, bumps on the skin within 15 minutes of testing indicate allergy to milk protein. 

For confirmation, oral food challenge is recommended. In this method, small amounts of milk is given. If a reaction develops within a short period, it shows a definitive diagnosis of milk allergy. Food elimination test is another way to diagnose allergy to milk. As the name indicates, in this method dairy products are eliminated from the diet. Absence of symptoms when milk is removed shows the likelihood of milk allergy. 

Blood tests – levels of antibodies in blood indicate the sensitivity of the person to milk. 

5 Treatment

Avoiding milk and milk products is the best way to treat symptoms of milk allergy. Complete avoidance of dairy products is difficult as milk or milk proteins may be present in many products. Be vigilant about reading the labels of products. Antihistamines are used to control the symptoms.

These medications block histamines, chemicals that cause symptoms of the egg allergy. For severe symptoms, epinephrine shots are suggested. Auto injectors are now available so that one can take the shot whenever needed. 

6 Prevention

There's no sure way to prevent milk allergy, but you can prevent reactions by avoiding food products containing milk or milk proteins.

It is important to avoid the hidden sources of milk as well.

Some products may not contain milk as such, but may have allergy-eliciting milk proteins. Always carry emergency epinephrine shots in hand.

Children who have had severe reaction should wear medical alert bracelet. 

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Aethusa Calcaria Carb, Calcaria Sulph, China, Conium, and Lac Daf are some of the homeopathic remedies for controlling symptoms of milk allergy.

Honey, ginger, carrot juice, turmeric, vitamin E, and Selenium are some of the natural remedies for controlling milk allergy. 

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Having a good support system who understands the special medical need of the person/child helps in coping with milk allergy.

Support groups are ideal for discussing the issues and the treatment options available.

At home, always have the emergency medication at hands reach and do remember to carry it wherever you are going. This can help during medical emergencies. 

9 Risks and Complications

Children who have milk allergy have an increased risk of developing other food allergies.

They may also develop hay fever as a complication. 

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