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Milk Allergy – Symptoms & Treatment

Milk is inherently present in a wide variety of food products. As we know infants mostly survive on milk, milk allergy is a very common food allergy in infants and young age group. This can develop in response to milk from any animal.

Although milk allergy has been estimated to be outgrown by children by the age of 3, it holds true only in about 20 per cent cases; the rest 80 per cent outgrows it by the age of 16.

What is milk allergy?

Milk allergy is basically an adverse immune reaction to one or more than 12 proteins present in milk. It is predominantly prevalent against alpha S1-casein protein in cow’s milk.

Milk allergy types

Milk allergy is of two distinct types:

Antibody-mediated allergy

This type of allergy arises within few minutes or seconds of drinking milk. The onset is a little slow when food-containing milk is consumed.

Non-antibody mediated allergy

The onset of allergic effects is quite slow in this case. It may take up to 72 hours to show a significant clinical effect. It is mediated by T-lymphocytes.


Milk allergy is another food allergy that is caused due to the malfunctioning of immune system. The cause of milk allergy is either antibody-mediated or lymphocyte-mediated.

The immune reaction initiates when the immune system identifies certain milk proteins to be harmful pathogens and induces the production of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies or lymphocytes to neutralize the allergen, in this case protein. The next time a person comes in contact with the same allergens, the IgE antibodies recognize them to signal the immune system to release histamines that lead to allergic signs in the body. This is how the allergic reactions are triggered. A person can be allergic to one or more than one milk proteins. The most common milk proteins that are likely to cause milk allergy are casein and whey.

These proteins present in any other animal’s milk besides cow’s milk can also cause allergic signs and symptoms. Therefore, some infants are found allergic to goat’s milk and sheep’s milk as well.

Milk Allergy Symptoms

The symptoms of milk allergy vary from a wide range of mild irritations to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Infants allergic to cow’s milk, goat’s milk or sheep’s milk are sometimes fed on breast milk, rice milk, almond milk or soy milk but none are devoid of allergic symptoms.

Let us discuss the quick symptoms of milk allergy:

  1. Skin hives,
  2. Rashes
  3. Itchiness
  4. Swelling
  5. Wheezing
  6. Nausea or vomiting

Some symptoms associated with a slow allergic reaction include:

  1. Skin rashes
  2. Abdominal cramps
  3. Diarrhea
  4. Runny nose or nasal congestion
  5. Intermittent coughing
  6. Watery eyes
  7. Loose stools (which may contain either mucus or blood)
  8. Colic, in babies

Severe anaphylaxis symptoms of milk allergy include the following:

  1. Drastic drop in blood pressure
  2. Constriction of airways
  3. Difficulty to breathe
  4. Swelling in throat
  5. Facial flushing
  6. Itching
  7. Shock
  8. Fainting

Risk factors

There are certain factors responsible to increase the risk of developing milk allergy. Some of them are discussed below:


Milk allergy is the first of its kind to develop. Therefore, it is more common in infants. Some of them outgrow it at a later age but some sustain it for life long. At a tender age, both digestive and immune system are immature hence, are more likely to react to milk proteins. This problem subsides eventually with age in some individuals.

Family history

A baby is more likely to be affected by milk allergy if there is a history of milk or some other food allergy in the family, especially one or both the parents.

Atopic disorders

Children having some or the other atopic disorders are at higher risk of developing milk allergy.

Allergies associated with milk allergy

Milk allergy is generally perceived as cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA). If cow’s milk is considered as one specific entity, infants allergic to cow’s milk are usually found allergic to sheep’s milk as well as goat’s milk. Although breast milk is a safer alternative, it is not free from risk. The milk allergen has a tendency to get transmitted to children through breast milk if the mother consumed milk or milk products during pregnancy.

Children having milk allergy might also be found allergic to rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, etc. Proteins in rice, almond and soy are three potential allergens causing food allergy.

Treatment of Milk Allergy

The treatment is to feed babies on a milk free diet. Any food product containing milk as an ingredient should be avoided at large. There are some food products that do not contain milk but has some amount of milk protein such as casein; those products should also be avoided. Instead, infants who have allergy concerns should be fed on other substitutes of milk or hydrolyzed formula. Breast-feeding is a potential treatment for avoiding milk allergy during the later years. Reports have proven that incessant breast-feeding till six months can keep away the children from allergic conditions at a later age. This is known as oral immunotherapy. More studies are going on in this aspect to confirm the finding.

Milk allergy is treated with dosages of steroids such as antihistamines. Fatal anaphylaxis can be treated by epinephrine or adrenaline injections along with a trip to emergency room. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention else, it can prove to be life threatening. As prevention, one should carry auto-injectors of epinephrine along with them all the time.

Diet and nutrition

Milk is a vital source of calcium. Therefore, next time if your doctor advises you to put your kid on a milk-free diet, the question might arise on your mind, from where will your kid get calcium? Well, soy milk is fortified with calcium. If soy milk also puts your kid at a risk of developing allergy, you may consult your doctor for a risk free formula. Hydrolyzed formulae are potential alternatives because the milk proteins are broken down into amino acids and short peptides that fail to trigger any immune response in the infant’s body. To avoid calcium and vitamin D deficiency on a longer term, calcium and vitamin D supplements can be incorporated in the diet. All other food products having no milk or milk protein as an ingredient can be consumed. However, parents should be extremely cautious about the food labels and should not ignore them while buying any product for their kids.

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