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  • Cows' milk allergy is an allergic reaction to the protein in cows' milk. In short, an allergic reaction to food occurs when the body's immune system responds inappropriately to something in a particular food. 

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    • We all have an immune system to protect us from infections, and allergic. Our immune system attacks the viruses and bacteria that can make us ill.

    • What happens during a food allergic reaction?

      An allergic reaction is simply an overreaction of that system. With a food allergy, the body’s immune system mistakenly recognises common “proteins” that are present in the foods we eat as potentially harmful. An immune response is set in motion aimed at neutralising the “harmful protein” and is responsible for the symptoms experienced when a child or adult is allergic to a certain food.

      The immune system may respond with a food allergic reaction within minutes of your child eating or drinking. Sometimes, the immune system can take longer to react - several hours or even days - which can make it difficult to diagnose.

      Although around a quarter of parents suspect their child has a food allergy, only 1 or 2 in every 20 young children are truly suffering from food allergy.

       

      What causes food allergy?

      It is not clearly understood why some children’s immune systems try to ‘fight’ certain foods or the ‘proteins’ they contain. In general, infants and young children are much more sensitive as their immune systems are still quite immature. Children coming from a family with an extensive history of allergy have a greater risk of developing food allergy than those with allergy-free relatives. However, even infants and children having no family history of allergy at all can have allergic symptoms.

      Can it happen in breast-fed babies?

      Very rarely, babies who only receive breast milk can react to cows’ milk proteins. These proteins can be passed on through their mother’s milk if she has been consuming dairy products. In this situation, healthcare professionals recommend that breast-feeding is continued due to its benefits and the mother tries to eliminate cows’ milk protein from her diet.

      How does CMA manifest itself in children?

      The symptoms caused by CMA can be varied and may affect several parts of the body.

      How the body is affected:

      • Skin – including rashes and eczema
      • Digestion – including vomiting, diarrhoea, colic
      • Breathing – including wheezing
      • Excessive crying

      Which foods are typical culprits?

      • Cows’ milk
      • Fish and shellfish
      • Hens’ eggs
      • Peanuts and tree nuts
      • Soya beans

      Diagnosing allergic reactions

      Allergic reactions can set in very rapidly (e.g. breathing problems, vomiting), but they can also be delayed or require more of the food (say a bottle of milk) to set them off.

      What makes diagnosis difficult is that the symptoms don’t always appear straight away. The immune system may respond to a food allergy within minutes of your child eating or drinking. In these cases, there are reliable tests which help doctors make the diagnosis.

      Sometimes, the immune system can take longer to react - several hours or even days. This makes it difficult to diagnose through allergy testing. 

      Although around a quarter of parents suspect their child has a food allergy, only 1 or 2 in every 20 young children are truly suffering from food allergy.
      By getting a correct diagnosis of a food allergy you can eliminate the food that is causing the allergy while ensuring that your child gets the right, nutritionally balanced, diet. Do tell your child’s doctor and/or dietitcian if you suspect symptoms which may be related to food allergies.

      Types of allergic reaction

      Immediate Reaction or ‘early onset’ symptoms

      • Symptoms can include skin rash or swelling.
      • What is happening in the body?

      IgE antibodies are produced by the body. These respond to foreign substances by causing the release of histamines into the body, which in turn causes the allergic reaction

      • To diagnose this IgE antibodies can be detected in blood tests.


        

       
      Delayed Reaction (Sometimes doctors may use the term 'non-IgE' rather than delayed reaction)

      • Symptoms can include Eczema and diarrhoea and eventually poor weight gain.
      • What is happening in the body?




      IgE antibodies are not involved but 'immune cells' are responsible

      • This can be difficult to diagnose.

      NB. Some children have both symptoms.
    • Good news..
      Just because a child is allergic to one food doesn’t mean you have to automatically avoid all the foods which other children are allergic to. Your child’s doctor or dietitian will be able to advise which foods are likely to trigger an allergic reaction in your child.
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Symptom Checklist

Visiting your doctor

Filling out this guide will help you prepare to visit your doctor if you suspect your child might have CMA.

Visiting your doctor

What is CMA?