Milk Allergy in Infants

What Is a Milk Allergy?

Babies with milk allergies involve an immune response to proteins that its immune system normally battles infections by looking at them as a dangerous invader. As a result, it produces histamine, which is the body’s basic defensive mechanism.

Breastfed babies are less likely to develop a milk allergy than ones fed cow milk formula. Babies with a cow milk allergy may develop symptoms days to weeks after their first bottle of formula with cow milk.

A milk allergy can affect any age group, but it is more common in young children. Many kids outgrow it, but others do not.

Should your baby be allergic to milk, always keep two epinephrine auto-injectors on hand? The auto-injectors are easily administered prescription medicines in a small container that resembles a pen. How to use it: Your doctor will show you.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Milk Allergy?

A milk allergy can cause the following symptoms in children who develop symptoms shortly after drinking milk:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • trouble breathing
  • hoarseness
  • stomach upset
  • throat tightness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • hives
  • itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
  • swelling
  • Lightheadedness or loss of consciousness caused by a drop in blood pressure

Even though milk is relatively mild, such a mild reaction can be followed by a more severe reaction, even life-threatening. Also, a different child can react differently based on how often he has been exposed.

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Children also can have:

  • The change of milk intolerance, resulting in loose stools, blood in the stool, refusal to eat, or irritability or colic several hours after the milk was consumed.
  • The body has trouble digesting lactose, which causes lactose intolerance. We recommend you to read our article which briefly describes lactose intolerance: 5 questions about lactose intolerance in children.

Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to diagnose allergies in your child. Talk to your doctor.

If Your Child Has an Allergic Reaction

If your child has symptoms of an allergic reaction, follow the food allergy action plan your doctor gave you.

You should seek immediate medical attention if your child has symptoms of a serious reaction (e.g., swelling of the throat or mouth or difficulty breathing.

  • Do not delay in administering the epinephrine auto-injector. Every second count in a serious allergic reaction.
  • In the event of a second attack of serious symptoms, contact 911 or take the child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision, as the worse may not have ended yet.

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How Is a Milk Allergy Diagnosed?

A doctor may suggest stool and blood tests if you think your baby is allergic to milk. The doctor may also refer you to an allergist (a doctor who specializes in treating allergies).

If your child is allergic to a particular allergen, the doctor or nurse might patch test your skin with milk protein. If the child reacts to the allergen, the skin might swell up like an insect bite in that area.

The allergist will prescribe epinephrine auto-injectors if the allergy specialist finds that your baby is at risk for a serious allergic reaction.

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How to avoid a milk allergy reaction

If You’re Breastfeeding

Talk to your allergist before changing your diet if your breastfed infant has a milk allergy.

If You’re Formula Feeding

You may be advised by your doctor to switch to an amino acid-based formula or an extensively hydrolyzed formula. These formulas break down the proteins so they do not typically trigger an allergic reaction.

Sometimes you’ll see formulas that are “partially hydrolyzed,” but that’s not necessarily hypoallergenic and may trigger an allergic reaction.

It is always best to consult with your child’s doctor if you suspect that your child has a milk allergy and choose a formula that is safe for your baby.

Do not try to manufacture your own formula. Commercial formulas are FDA approved and made using a very specific and specialized process unavailable at home. Milk other than human milk is primarily geared toward older children with milk allergies and is not suitable for infants.

Please discuss any concerns or questions you have with your child’s doctor.