Cows’ milk allergy in young going undiagnosed, claims charity

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The charity Allergy UK is calling for more awareness of cows’ milk allergy, after a report revealed nearly half of children have to wait three months for a correct diagnosis.

The report ‘The Challenge of Delayed Reactions’, found that of the parents surveyed, whose children have been diagnosed with cows’ milk allergy (CMA), nearly one in five visited their GP 10 times or more.

Chair of Allergy UK Health Advisory Board, Dr Adam Fox, who wrote the report with GP Dr David Mass said: “If you’re not looking for CMA, you won’t find it. That is why it is important for both healthcare professionals and parents to be informed about the symptoms of cows’ milk allergy and consider it earlier.”

Jenni Falconer, television presenter, and mum, is backing the campaign to raise awareness of the allergy. She said: “Prior to this campaign, I had little knowledge of cows’ milk allergy and this is something I was keen to change, particularly as a new mum who wants to be informed of anything that could affect my baby girl. It is frustrating when we don’t understand why our baby is upset, after all they can’t just tell us what’s wrong!

“With this allergy, there can be a delay in diagnosis so I urge all parents to find out about the common symptoms of CMA and to speak to their doctor or health visitor if they are concerned.”

The report found the delay in diagnosis of CMA can create an emotional burden for parents, with 81 per cent saying they felt powerless while their child was ill. Over half of parents felt responsible for their child’s condition and 58 per cent said they doubted themselves as a parent. The research shows that while 75 per cent of parents say they have heard of CMA, 50 per cent could not identify any symptoms.

Three quarters of parents said their child had experienced one or more of the symptoms of CMA, but an overwhelming 70 per cent of these parents had never considered it could be connected to an allergy. GPs were questioned for the report. They said there needs to be more information and training made available to doctors, with 70 per cent saying they would like more information on CMA.

Seventy-seven per cent of GPs and health visitors agreed that they would be better placed to give better support to parents if they had greater confidence and knowledge of the condition. Experts say the problem of diagnosis lies in the symptoms being both diverse and common – including skin disorders (atopic dermatitis) and respiratory complaints, which are often first attributed to other conditions by doctors.

Additionally, symptoms may be delayed – occurring hours or even days after milk is consumed. CMA is the most common food allergy in infants and young children, with a prevalence of up to seven per cent of babies in the UK, according to Allergy UK.

The awareness campaign, ACT on CMA, has been developed in partnership between Allergy UK and infant nutrition specialists Danone Baby Nutrition and Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition. The initiative also aims to provide parents with useful information and support through what can be a difficult journey to diagnosis.

Symptoms of CMA to look out for: Symptoms can be immediate or delayed. Immediate reactions occur very quickly after the infant has consumed cows’ milk, so are relatively easy to pick up. Reactions are common when weaning or if changing from breast feeding to formula.

A red itchy rash around baby’s mouth, facial swelling, hives (red itchy lumps) on the body, streaming nose, sickness and vomiting, may be because the child is having an immediate allergic reaction. In more severe reactions, there may be breathing difficulties, and if this is the case an ambulance should be called immediately.

This is quite rare in infants. Some symptoms come on much more slowly and are more difficult to spot. These are known as delayed reactions and may cause chronic symptoms such as eczema, reflux, colic, poor growth or even constipation.

When infants and children are fed cows’ milk or any parts of it, this can trigger allergic reactions. By avoiding the ‘proteins’ in cows’ milk completely, the symptoms caused by this reaction can be eliminated. Cows’ milk should never be excluded from the diet without the advice of a healthcare professional as it provides so many important nutrients.

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About Author

Jonathan

As well as being one of the founding members of refluxSUPPORT...Jonathan is a Board Member and trustee of Living with Reflux – the only UK Charity for infants with reflux related conditions.He is also a stakeholder in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – Gastro-oesophageal reflux in children and young people.He has three daughters of which the eldest is now seventeen. Two suffered from severe reflux.