Spotting a milk allergy in babies

All Woman

SAMANTHA'S son was born with beautiful skin, but he soon developed what she considered to be the worst case of eczema ever.

“He developed a rash from head to toe,” the mother shared. “Initially, because he was a baby and babies don't know how to scratch, he just cried. We went to the doctor and they said it was eczema, so we started treating him for it, but the rash just kept coming back.”

The last thing the mother suspected was that her baby had a food allergy, because she was exclusively breastfeeding, so she kept treating the rash that would sometimes be soothed by the medications, but never really went away.

“Then one day his sister was eating chocolate next to him and the rash just came on fully. By then he was a little older and could scratch himself, and he did. So at that point I thought that he was allergic to chocolate.”

She mentioned it to one of her colleagues in medicine, who suggested that maybe her son wasn't allergic to the chocolate, just the milk that was inside it. Then it all started to make sense to her.

“It seemed that my son was being exposed to traces of the dairy milk that I was consuming through the breastmilk,” Samantha said. “I adjusted my diet and within two days his skin cleared up.”

Milk allergies occur in about three per cent of babies, and manifest when their bodies react negatively — sometimes adversely — to milk and its by-products.

Medical doctor Hamish Hayden points out that a milk allergy is not to be confused with a milk intolerance, which is also called lactose intolerance.

“Lactose intolerance is when the body has difficulty digesting the sugar in milk, and this usually occurs in older children and adults, and is not usually life-threatening. This usually only manifests as digestive issues such as diarrhoea, bloating and gas,” he says. “A milk allergy, on the other hand, can become very serious very quickly.”

Dr Hayden lists the most common symptoms of a milk allergy in infants.

“Swelling, especially in the mouth and throat, and other parts of the face, as well as a scaly skin rash, runny nose and eyes, and trouble breathing, are some other main symptoms,” he says.

“The baby may also be very fussy because of the rash and tummy ache, but these may be missed or mistaken for colic if the baby is constantly exposed to milk. There may also be traces of blood in the baby's stool.”

The first line of treatment, the doctor says, is removing all milk products from the baby's diet.

“If the baby is breastfed, this will also mean removing dairy from the mother's diet, as traces can be passed on to the baby,” Dr Hayden prescribes. “Formula-fed infants can switch to soy-based or other non-dairy formulas, but they should be closely monitored to see if they are also allergic to those ingredients.”

In the case of sudden severe allergic reaction to milk products, Dr Hayden says medical attention must be sought immediately. An antihistamine in appropriate dosing for the child's age may also be administered as a first-aid remedy, he says.

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