Milk Allergies in Children: What You Should Know

The Importance of Milk

Cow’s milk or milk from other animals, such as sheep or goats, is an importance source of many of the nutrients that a child needs to maintain good health. This is particularly true for very young children. It is recommended that children ages 2 through 5 consume six servings of dairy each day. These do not need to be in liquid drink form as there are many foods, such as cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, that contain all of milk’s’ nutrients. Milk servings for a child of this age group are 1/2 cup of milk, yogurt, or pudding, 3/4 ounce of cheese or 1 cup of cottage cheese. Overweight children should limit their dairy to low0fat or skim products, but all children ages 5 and younger should consume whole milk.

Despite the importance of dairy to a young child’s diet, as many as 3 percent of all children under 1 year of age are allergic to animal milk and all animal milk-based products. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to animal milk include stomach cramping or pain which can be mild or severe, wheezing, hives, vomiting, nausea and loose stools or even diarrhea. In rare and extreme cases, intestinal bleeding or anaphylaxis occurs. In most instances, these children outgrow the milk allergy by the age of 4.

How To Prevent Allergic Reactions

When a child is allergic to animal milk, the parents need to make sure that the child avoids ingesting all animal milk and milk-based products, as this is the only way that a reaction can be prevented. The first step that parents need to take is identify all animal products that the child may consume, such as milk, butter, ice cream, cheese and yogurt. Others may be more difficult to identify, including margarine, certain salad dressings, mashed potatoes, cake, doughnuts, sherbet, chocolate and scalloped and au gratin foods, to name just a few.

Parents also may try to identify milk substitute products that their child can tolerate. Such products include soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, non-dairy yogurt, non-dairy chocolate, non-dairy ice cream and non-dairy cheese, for example. These products provide many of the same nutrients that are provided by animal milk and animal milk-based items. However, it is important to note that some children also may be allergic to one or more of these substitute products, so parents should closely monitor their child for allergy symptoms whenever they feed these products to their child.

How To Diagnose a Milk Allergy

If you only suspect that your child may a milk allergy or if you want to learn more about milk allergies in children, contact your child’s pediatrician. They can administer one or more of the available tests that are useful for positively diagnosing a milk allergy problem in a child. These tests include a skin test, in which the child’s skin is pricked and proteins found in animal milk are added to the pricked region to see if an allergic response results, and a blood test, in which certain the levels of certain antibodies are measured and these levels indicate whether a milk allergy is likely. Your child’s pediatrician also can answer any additional questions that you may have about milk allergies.

References

A. Host, Frequency of Cow’s Milk Allergy In Childhood, Ann. Allergy Asthma Immunol., 89:33-37 (2002).

C. Caffarelli et al., Cow’s Milk Allergy In Children: A Practical Guide, Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 36:5 (2010).

K. Jorma et al., Residual Intestinal Disease After Milk Allergy In Infancy, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 32:256-161 (2001).

Mayo Clinic, Milk Allergy: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/milk-allergy/DS01008

Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health, Cow’s Milk and Children: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001973.htm