All parents want the best for their children, and that extends to their health and well-being from the moment they are born. Unfortunately, there are some circumstances that are beyond a parent’s control. Cow’s milk protein allergy, also referred to as CMPA, is one of these health conditions that cannot be predicted or prevented among young children. In the UK, an estimated 2 to 4% of children under the age of 3 develop CMPA which can cause a lengthy list of symptoms that are not easy to manage. Without a proper diagnosis and an actionable treatment plan, parents with children with CMPA are left feeling hopeless and frustrated, and the child may face challenges in developing properly as a result.
Many young children outgrow their CMPA after age 3, but it is necessary for parents to understand that the problem with ingesting cow’s milk can lead to several prominent issues. First, however, parents need to know that there are different types of CMPA, defined by how and when the condition presents in a young child. Cow’s milk protein allergy comes in two broad forms, including IgE-mediated allergy and Non-IgE mediated allergy. With the former, symptoms start within a few hours of ingesting cow’s milk, while the latter involves delayed reactions to dairy products. In either case, it is essential for parents to recognise the symptoms of CMPA and seek out the right medical attention as soon as possible.
Recognising the Symptoms
The first step in getting the right treatment for infant CMPA is recognising the symptoms that come with either immediate or delayed onset. Symptoms can be widely varied from child to child, but generally speaking, CMPA presents as the following in young children:
- Facial swelling
- Stunted growth
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Pain in abdominal area
- Skin rash
When these symptoms arise, it can be a challenge for parents to know exactly what to do next. Many of these issues seem mild at first, but over time, they may increase in severity and discomfort may be more noticeable. If symptoms of CMPA are frequent, particularly after feeding, parents should consult with their GP as soon as they are able so a proper diagnosis can be made.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Although CMPA is one of the most common allergies among young children in the UK and throughout the world, it comes with obstacles as far as diagnosis. According to a group of medical negligence specialists, diagnosing cow’s milk protein allergy in small children is challenging because it requires an understanding of the child and parent’s family history, a detailed timeline of symptoms, and ruling out other medical conditions which may present similarly. Also, CMPA warning signs are vague and incredibly common, which leads some GPs to simply brush off the problem as a non-issue. When this happens, parents do not receive the referral they need to a pediatric specialist who can properly identify and subsequently treat the allergy for the long term.
A recent study conducted by a formula manufacturer lends credibility to these concerns, highlighting the fact that of 500 doctors surveyed, 80% believe that CMPA is diagnosed initially as another health condition. Some doctors do not recognise the prevalence of the condition among young children, while others are unfamiliar with the treatment options that may offer elimination of symptoms. In either case, CMPA diagnosis is often inaccurate at the start which leaves children and their parents in pain.
Resources and Alternatives
While it seems like cow’s milk protein allergy is a confusing and often misdiagnosed condition, parents can rest assured that once a specialist referral is received, treatment options are available. Many dieticians offered a soy-based diet as an alternative to cow’s milk, but recent research shows that soy milk in infants has been linked to infertility issues later in life. Now, other alternatives, including tree nut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, and oat milk give parents an option for replacing cow’s milk for feeding. Each has a different composition of calories and nutrients than dairy milk, but using one or more of these alternatives can eliminate symptoms of CPMA.
Parents who are concerned with their child’s reaction to cow’s milk, or those who are unsure if CMPA is the root cause of an infant’s discomfort, can take matters into their own hands by completing a simple symptom checklist online. These results may be presented to a GP in an effort to be referred to a specialist who will ultimately offer more guidance on avoiding the negative side effects of CMPA in young children.