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Thousands of babies wrongly diagnosed with milk allergies

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African American toddler little girl drinking milk while playing in the park

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Thousands of babies are being wrongly diagnosed with milk allergies, according to new research.

An analysis of around 1,300 infants found three in four had 'symptoms' by the time they were a year old - as defined by current guidelines.

The participants, all from England and Wales, had been exclusively breastfed for at least the first 13 weeks of life.

Official advice may be leading to normal excessive crying, regurgitation of milk and loose stools being mistaken as a cow’s milk allergy.

The study found 38 and 74 percent had multiple mild-to-moderate symptoms at 3 months and 12 months old, respectively.


Lead author Dr. Rosie Vincent, of the University of Bristol, said: "We evaluated the prevalence of guideline-defined milk allergy symptoms in 1303 infants.

"Guidelines may promote milk allergy overdiagnosis by labelling normal infant symptoms as possible milk allergy."

She added: "There is an assumption the existence of a guideline is more beneficial than no guideline.

"However, well-meaning guidelines need to be supported by robust data to avoid harms from over-diagnosis that exceed the damage of missed and delayed cow’s milk allergy diagnoses that they are seeking to prevent."

In the study questionnaires in which parents reported on their infant's
general health and consumption of foods were completed monthly until 12 months of age.

The findings, published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, follow a recent investigation of more than 12,000 under-twos across Europe.

It showed fewer than one in 100 infants are actually affected by milk allergies.

Dr. Vincent said: "Almost three-quarters of infants had two or more of the ‘mild-moderate’ symptoms and almost one in ten had two or more ‘severe’ symptoms at some stage between 3 and 12 months.

"An average of one quarter of infants reported two or more mild-moderate symptoms in any individual month.

"The proportion of affected children was highest at three months of age for both two or more mild-moderate symptoms (37.6%) and two or more severe symptoms (4.3%) when none were being directly fed cow's milk."

The prescription of specialist formulas for babies with cow’s milk allergies has increased significantly since the guidelines were published.

In England, doctors prescribe about 10 times more of these specialist formulas than would be expected based on the proportion of families who use formula milk and the proportion of infants who have a milk allergy.

Seven out of the nine guidelines advise breastfeeding women to cut out all dairy in their diets if they believe their child has a milk allergy.

Previous research has found less than one-millionth of the protein from cow's milk ends up travelling through to breast milk - too small to trigger any kind of reaction in most children with a milk allergy.

There are two distinct types of cow’s milk allergies in children: IgE mediated and non-IgE mediated.

They each display different symptoms after a child has been given food or drink containing cow’s milk.

The former is usually quite easy to spot and often occurs within an hour of an infant’s first exposure to milk as natural yoghurt, formula milk or as an ingredient in baby cereal.

The latter occurs more slowly. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea or a flare of eczema.

Cute Asian child drinking a carton of milk from a box with a straw
(Photo by Sakura Image Inc via Shutterstock)

Dr. Vincent added: "The over-perception of food allergy in the general public is long-standing and precedes the emergence of milk allergy guidelines for both adults and children.

"However, guidelines that potentially exacerbate the problem of overdiagnosis are not helpful."

Symptoms such as regurgitating milk, crying and rashes, which are very common in otherwise healthy babies, are not usually associated with milk allergy, especially in exclusively breastfed infants.

Infants with severe symptoms, who are receiving lots of cow’s milk in their diet, for example as formula milk, may sometimes be advised to try low allergy milk to see whether symptoms improve.

But these symptoms are all much more common than milk allergy, so only a minority of infants will see any benefit.

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