Milk allergy is an autoimmune response to milk proteins, such as casein (found in the curd) and whey (found in the liquid part of the milk). Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is the most common type; however, some people get symptoms from sheep or goats’ products, as well.
Milk allergies are most common in young children and may become less severe over time. Symptoms range from a mild rash or digestive discomfort to wheezing or full anaphylaxis.
Managing an allergy may include using certain replacement products such as hypoallergenic formulas or soy milk, as well as supplements to replace calcium in your child’s diet.
If you think your child may be experiencing an allergy to milk proteins, it is important to consult with your Midland Health GP. We offer same-day GP appointments and we’re here to help, advise and offer guidance for you and your family.
Milk Allergy or Lactose Intolerance
Milk allergy is an immune condition that causes an allergic reaction when even the smallest amount of milk is consumed. It can be a potentially life-threatening condition, especially if it causes anaphylaxis.
Lactose intolerance or the intolerance of milk proteins can have unpleasant effects, such as digestive problems, excessive wind, bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps but it is not a life-threatening condition. Therefore, it is extremely important to get the right diagnosis.
If you suspect your child may have an allergy to dairy products, you should book an appointment with a GP immediately to discuss their symptoms and do the necessary tests to confirm whether they have a milk protein allergy or not.
Milk Allergy Symptoms
Milk allergy can have many symptoms, some of which occur immediately and some – a few hours after the consumption of products that contain milk. This depends on the type of allergic reaction.
If your child has a Non-IgE mediated food allergy (the most common type), symptoms develop within 72 hours of consuming milk proteins and may include:
- Diarrhoea (including bloody discharge)
- Stomach cramps and pains
- Watery eyes and runny nose
- Colic (in babies) – prolonged, intense crying
If your child’s allergy is found to be IgE mediated, it can have immediate effects, such as:
- Sudden appearance of hives
- Wheezing, coughing and difficulties breathing
- Swelling of the throat, lips and tongue
- Itchy feeling around the mouth and lips
Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction. It is a life-threatening medical emergency that develops within minutes of consuming milk-containing products (or other products you are allergic to).
During anaphylaxis, swelling narrows the airways and can cause an inability to breathe. Some of the early signs to look out for include:
- Redding of the face
- Swelling around the mouth, throat and face
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden drop in blood pressure causing a state of shock
Anaphylaxis is treated with adrenaline administered as an epinephrine shot, usually using an EpiPen or a similar device. Even when the treatment has alleviated the symptoms, you should still go to the emergency room and get examined by a doctor.
Milk Allergy Testing & Diagnosis
During your appointment with your Midland Health GP, your doctor will ask you about the symptoms that you have spotted and will perform a physical exam. At this stage, it is helpful to present your doctor with a food diary, detailing the food your child has consumed over the previous two weeks and the possible milk allergy symptoms you have noted.
To confirm the milk allergy diagnosis, we can do two types of allergy tests:
- Skin prick test: This is an allergy skin test that involves introducing small amounts of milk proteins and observing whether there is a reaction – a small bump or a hive on the skin
- Blood test: We test a sample of your child’s blood for immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies
Sometimes, both tests may be required to confidently confirm or reject the diagnosis. An additional method to use could be the oral test challenge where the patient is asked to consume increasing amounts of milk to see whether there is a reaction and what the threshold is.
If your doctor thinks that something else may be causing the symptoms, they may refer you for further testing at the Midland Health clinic.
Milk Allergy Treatment
If a milk allergy diagnosis is confirmed, the only way to treat it is to remove products that contain milk proteins from your child’s diet. If your baby has a cow’s milk allergy, you could be offered hydrolysed milk as an alternative; it’s a special type of milk formula that’s safe for babies who are allergic to milk.
Products to avoid if you have a milk allergy
If your child has been diagnosed with a milk allergy, you should avoid all dairy products, including:
- Milk (whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed)
- Ice cream
Not all products that contain dairy are as easy to spot. This is why you should read the labels very carefully and avoid anything that contains:
- Whey or Casein
- Chocolate, caramel and any other sweets that contain milk
- Any ingredients that begin with “lact”
- Artificial cheese or butter flavouring
What is cow’s milk allergy (CMA)?
Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is the most common type of milk allergy. It is an immune reaction to one or more of the proteins contained in milk. It is most commonly diagnosed in babies under 1.
How do you get tested for a milk allergy?
We can use a blood test or a skin prick test, or a combination of both to check for a milk allergy.
How do you know you are allergic to milk?
If you experience an allergic reaction within 72 hours of consuming dairy products, you may be allergic to milk. If you think that might be the case, book an appointment with one of our GPs to discuss your symptoms.
Can adults be allergic to milk?
Milk allergy is mostly diagnosed in small children and babies. The majority of children grow out of their milk allergy. However, some people don’t and continue to have milk allergy symptoms into adulthood.
Can I suddenly become allergic to milk as an adult?
It is highly unlikely that you will develop a milk allergy as an adult. However, it is common to develop lactose intolerance later in life and the two could be confused as they could be triggered by the same products.
- Cow's Milk Components Allergy Blood Test - £159*
- Milk and Milk Proteins Allergy Blood Test - £182*
- Phlebotomy Appointment - £35
- Standard GP Consultation (30 min) - £120
- Express GP Consultation (15 min) - £60
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