Allergies

Does Your Infant Have Milk Protein Allergy?

Milk Protein AllergyAllergies are a big menace in the United States. More than half the population in the United States has one or more food allergies. About 1 out of 25 Americans have food allergies. More than 12 million Americans have food allergies. About 3 million children in the United States have food related allergies. About 2.5 % of children below the age of 3 have milk allergy in the United States. Milk protein allergy is one of the most prevalent allergies among infants. But the good news is that most of the children out grow the allergy by the age of 16.

What is Milk Protein Allergy?

It is essentially a food allergy in which the immune system is hypersensitive and reacts adversely to the proteins in milk. The most common protein in milk which causes the reaction is alpha S1-casein. However, there are different variants of the same protein depending on the type of animal it is from. So the said protein in sheep milk could be similar to goat milk and can induce reactions. However, an individual with the same allergies may not have any reaction to breast milk.

The immune system reacts to the said proteins in milk. It responds by producing antibodies known as Immunoglobulin antibodies (IgE). These proteins react with the antibodies and causes the mast cells to release the inflammatory mediator, namely, histamine. Histamine is the chemical which causes the adverse physical reactions in the body.

Symptoms of Milk allergy in Infants

The symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, respiratory and dermatological in nature.The symptoms could occur immediately on the ingestion of milk or they can have a delayed reaction and develop much later. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Red, itchy bumps on skin as in hives.
  • Skin rashes which can develop into lesions.
  • Nausea and Vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Bloating.
  • Diarrhea or Constipation.
  • In extreme cases, anaphylaxis may occur. It is an emergency medical condition in which there is shortness of breath, wheezing, drop in blood pressure, confusion etc.

A word about Lactose Intolerance

The symptoms of lactose intolerance could be similar to milk allergy. However, it is a non-allergic sensitivity to milk. Sometimes certain individuals are born with a deficient enzyme, namely, lactase. Lactase is required to metabolize lactose which is the predominant sugar in milk. Unlike milk allergy, lactose intolerance is manifested generally with consumption of large quantities of milk.

A word about Milk Protein Intolerance (MPI)

MPI is different from Milk Protein Allergy. It is a non IgE mediated response of the body to milk proteins. The symptoms are similar to milk allergy with an additional symptom of mucus or blood in stools. It is delayed reaction to a protein and is not necessarily allergic in nature. As IgE is not produced, this condition is not detected by blood tests.

Milk Allergy and Breastfeeding

Infants allergic to milk proteins would develop allergy only to dairy products. Breast milk is safe for them. However, if the nursing mom consumes dairy products, the proteins could percolate into the breast milk and cause symptoms in the infant. It is better for the mother not to consume dairy products.

Prevention of Milk Allergy

  • It is important for breast feeding moms to stay away from dairy.
  • For bottle fed infants, it is necessary to move to a dairy free formula as in soy based formulas. There are other milk substitution products commercially available like rice milk, almond milk etc.
  • It is extremely important to read labels. This is so because milk or milk products are added to a lot of processed foods like bread, crackers, cookies, cake, soups, gravies etc. Hence, the chances of accidental exposure increase if labels are not read properly.
  • The intensity of the symptoms depend on the sensitivity of the individuals. If symptoms are moderate then antihistamines like Benadryl could be useful.
  • In case of anaphylaxis, an emergency dose of epinephrine needs to be administered.

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