Does your child have a milk allergy?
We hear a lot on TV and in social media about making sure to “get enough milk”, and how good a glass of milk is with every meal..
The truth is, whether we are adults or children, we do not need milk products in our diet to be healthy. We can get all the necessary nutrition from other foods. In addition to which milk allergy is very common and consuming milk products can bring a wide range of health issues.
Allergy or sensitivity?
Allergies typically cause a fairly immediate reaction such as runny nose, sneezing, hives, vomiting, diarrhoea and possibly anaphylaxis. Sensitivities on the other hand produce a delayed reaction that can take several days to show up. I might also refer to this as an intolerance. This is more difficult to spot due to the delay in the reaction.
At the end of the day, it does not make much difference whether it is an allergy or sensitivity, either way your child will be better off avoiding the offending food. Both can lead to discomfort, affect nutritional levels, and impact your child’s development.
One of the most common food allergies and sensitivities I see is a milk allergy. Your child may react to the sugar (lactose) and / or the protein (casein) in the milk, and some of the signs are not obviously linked to what they are eating.
The symptoms may start at a very young age due to your child being exposed to milk products through your breast milk. As a child graduates to solid food they are often given milk to drink, yoghurt and cheese. As a child gets older the symptoms may decrease. This can usually be attributed to the fact that the child is no longer drinking cups or bottles of milk, and a larger part of their diet is non-milk.
Here are 5 groups of symptoms that would lead me to suspect milk allergy.
This is maybe the most obvious group of symptoms.
Colic, spitting up
Diarrhoea; may be greenish, smellly
Gas and bloating
Abdominal pain, tummy aches
2.Hyperactivity and sleep problems
I see many children in my practice who do not sleep well leading to irritability, temper tantrums and exhausted parents.
It is not unusual that removing milk products from their diet brings almost complete relief, in some cases going from just a few hours of sleep a night to a straight 10 hours within a few days of removing the milk.
When the body breaks out in a rash, hives, eczema, or the skin is either dry or just itchy it is trying to tell you something. One of the most common causes for this irritation is milk.
Even if your child does not have an allergy or sensitivity to milk it is generally mucous forming.
It is not unusual that asthma, cough, frequent colds, congestion, sinusitis and ear infections are linked to a milk allergy. I have a number of clients who were prepared to take their child to have their adenoids or tonsils removed who found that by removing milk products from the diet the symptoms improved and surgery was no longer necessary.
5.Failure to thrive
This is a little more difficult to spot. You may find that your child has black rings under their eyes, looks tired, lacks energy, is frequently unwell, tends not to gain weight or has excess weight for no obvious reason. They may have issues concentrating or mild to moderate learning difficulties.
If your child is drinking a lot of milk they may also have low iron levels as the calcium in the milk interferes with the uptake of iron from food. I had a recent 11yr old male client who was lethargic, unmotivated, had back and knee aches and a tendency to be quite plump. I tested him as being low in iron, and a blood test from his family doctor showed that he was borderline anaemic. He had been drinking a big glass of milk at every meal and at bedtime. This also meant that he was not eating a proper amount of food due to being full up with the milk.
Elimination diet to test for a milk allergy
Remove the milk for at least 3-4weeks. Monitor your child’s symptoms.
Try reintroducing one type of milk product over a week or so and see what happens.
You can then determine the level of tolerance, and which products are better or worse.
Switching to lactose free products may help, however, frequently the issue is the milk protein which will still be present so it best to remove ALL milk products.
This means milk (including chocolate milk), cheeses, yoghurt, cream, icecream, and milk in products such as chocolate, desserts, cakes and baked goods, flavoured crackers and chips.. and more – read the labels on things you buy.
It is important to remember that the reaction may not appear immediately, so you need to think about what your child ate 2, 3 or even 4 or more days ago. A food and symptom diary can be helpful for this.
At times medical interventions such as surgeries and medications are necessary. However, if you suspect a milk allergy or sensitivity you may want to remove milk products from your child’s diet first to see if that is the underlying cause for the issues.
I also offer Allergy testing, for children from newborn and up, for milk and other foods to which they may be reacting.