Your child seems to hate cow's milk. He complains of stomach ache every time he has milk. Or maybe it's your little infant, unable to speak our her problems. Her skin breaks out in rashes whenever it comes in contact with milk or cream. She hates bottle like hell. Maybe it's a milk allergy, But milk is still important part of a child's diet, you think. Isn't it?
We have come to look at milk as the miracle food, atleast for the kids. So it is very difficult for the parents of young kids when they discover that their child suffers from milk allergy. In fact, many cases of milk allergy go undiagnosed. Milk is a very common allergen (allergy causing food) and it is important for new parents to have sufficient knowledge about milk allergy. This is even more important when we realize that classic skin tests are not very effective in conforming milk allergy, and diagnosis is mostly dependent on parent's observations.
What exactly is Milk Allergy?
Milk allergy can manifest itself in two ways ' rapid onset, and delayed onset. In rapid onset allergy, the symptoms (about which we discuss in length later) appear within a couple of hours of consuming a dairy product. This kind is easily detectable. Symptoms in delayed onset reaction may take much longer to occur. This makes it much difficult to diagnose, and often results in a chronic disease. Unfortunately, Delayed onset reaction is the more common type of milk allergy.
Milk allergy is also often confused with lactose intolerance. While lactose intolerance too results from milk consumption, Milk allergy can also be caused by milk proteins. It is important to understand the difference between the two. Lactose is a type of milk sugar, and lactose intolerance is found in children whose bodies are unable to metabolize it. It happens because the body is not producing enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. The production of lactase is genetically programmed, and its deficiency can occur after a few years of life. Once occurred, It is a life long disease.
Milk protein allergy, however, is caused by immune system's reaction to the milk proteins. The immune system mistakes milk proteins to be harmful foreign elements, and initializes a series of reactions to expel them out of the body. However, most children outgrow this allergy by the age of five, as their immune system slowly learns to recognize the milk proteins.
Symptoms of Milk Allergy
Both, lactose intolerance and milk protein allergy result in similar kind of symptoms. The allergy can manifest in the skin, digestive system or the respiratory system. Skin reactions may include an itchy red rash, hives, eczema, swelling of lips, mouth, tongue, face or throat. Digestive system reactions might include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, bloating, or abdominal cramps. Respiratory system reactions include runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, wheezing, shortness of breath, or coughing. What is important to realize is that none of these symptoms are confirmatory tests of milk allergy. Even the skin tests can not perfectly confirm a milk allergy. The only sure shot way is to closely observe the child and his diet, and monitor the reactions.
Treatment of Milk Allergy
There is no treatment for milk allergy. Medication is ineffective in treating this condition. As with most allergies, the best way is to avoid the allergen, in this case milk and other dairy products. It is easier said than done. While closely observing the menu is the only option for older children, infants are best when switched to breast milk or soy based formula. Anyways, Breastfed children are less likely to develop food allergies of any sort. In some cases, though, breastfed children develop reactions when they are exposed to milk proteins that is passed to them from mother's diet through breast milk. In such cases, a nursing mother needs to strictly follow a non-dairy diet herself. A child with Milk protein allergy needs to be challenged with little amounts of milk after every couple of months to ascertain that she has outgrown her allergy or not. However, as discussed earlier, a lactose intolerant child would always remain so, and ought not to be bothered with such periodic tests.
What ! No milk !
This is typically how most acquaintances would react. This stems from a huge emphasis that we place on milk and its nutritional value. However, as the celebrated Dr. Spocks explains in his book, Baby and Child Care, this emphasis is quite misplaced. Animals do not have any milk past infancy, and human body also needs none beyond mother's milk. But milk is an important source of calcium. Since milk is excluded from the diet of an allergic child, it is important that her diet be nutritionally balanced to overcome the deficiency of calcium. The recommended daily allowance of calcium depends on the age of the individual. Luckily, to meet it is not so hard, as abundant calcium is found in number of plant and animal sources, namely green vegetables (broccoli, collard greens, turnip greens, and kale), fish with soft, edible bones (salmon and sardines), and seafood (oysters and shrimp). The parents should also keep in mind that Calcium cannot be absorbed without Vitamin D. Sources of Vitamin D include eggs, liver, and sunlight.
Summarily, Milk is not the be all of nutrition. Indeed, it can be a primary source of your child's irritation. Very soon, families of allergic kids find out a number of pleasant ways to avoid milk products, and live happily ever after!!