Getting the Right Diagnosis for Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy in Children

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Being a parent comes with countless responsibilities, not the least of which is ensuring a child stays healthy particularly in their early years. The unfortunate reality is that many health conditions are not fully under the control of parents. Certain issues require medical attention and a proper diagnosis from the start to avoid complications with a child’s well-being in the future. Cow’s milk protein allergy, or CMPA, is one of the health conditions that cannot be predicted, nor can it be avoided no matter how attentive the parent is. However, recognising the prevalence of CMPA and the correlated warning signs as well as treatment options are important factors in maintaining the health of a young child.
Protein Allergy
Cow’s milk protein allergy impacts an estimated two to four percent of children in the UK alone, most often appearing in children under the age of three. While some infants and young children eventually outgrow the allergy, overlooking the condition or failing to provide alternatives can lead to a slew of problems over a child’s lifetime. Parents should know that CMPA comes in two main forms: IgE-mediated allergy and non-IgE mediated allergy. Both have similar warning signs, but the first causes symptoms almost immediately while the other takes days to weeks for a reaction to appear. Parents can help their child with CMPA by being aware of the most common side effects of the condition, followed closely by seeking the right medical attention.

Knowing the Warning Signs

Cow’s milk protein allergy that is either immediate or delayed may come with several different symptoms, including:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Wheezing
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen or watery eyes
  • Hives and rashes
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting

In addition to these warning signs, small children may also experience delayed symptoms of CMPA. Health issues related to cow’s milk protein allergy that take place hours or days after ingesting cow’s milk could include loose stools with blood, gagging during feeding, irritability, or a refusal to eat. Any combination of these symptoms is caused by the immune system’s inability to digest protein found in cow’s milk. When the body does not properly break down cow’s milk protein, it responds by attacking the food which results in a variety of allergic reactions. Any of these issues that present shortly after feeding a child cow’s milk require immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing CMPA

Some parents may feel as though the allergic reaction to the protein in cow’s milk is normal for a child, typically because some of the symptoms are normal after feeding. However, it is necessary to get the help of a doctor when the warning signs seem to be prolonged or when they take place right after feeding. Throughout the world, though, diagnosing CMPA comes with its own challenges from a medical standpoint. A medical negligence law firm who handle pediatric cases explains that diagnosing CMPA in small children is a cut and dry process. Part of the issue with getting a proper diagnosis is that an in-depth family history along with a detailed listing of the child’s symptoms over time is necessary to get a proper diagnosis. Medical professionals must also rule out other conditions that mimic CMPA symptoms, which takes both time and expertise. Because many of the warning signs of cow’s milk protein allergy are vague, parents are not always given the correct information at the first doctor’s visit, leaving them with no recourse for treatment or easing the discomfort of a child.
According to a recent study by a leading manufacturer of baby formula in the UK, 80% of 500 doctors surveyed believed that cow’s milk protein allergy is diagnosed as another condition when it is initially presented. This may be due to the fact that some doctors are unaware of the commonality of CMPA, or they are not well-versed in treatment options and new alternatives to cow’s milk. When CMPA is misdiagnosed, children may live with symptoms for several years before growing out of the allergy. In the worst cases, CMPA wreaks havoc on the digestive system, causing many health challenges throughout adolescence and adulthood. This is why it is crucial to follow up on suspected CMPA symptoms, and seek out a second opinion when necessary.

Alternatives for Children

Once CMPA is correctly diagnosed in a young child, parents can rest assured there are treatment options and alternatives to cow’s milk that reduce symptoms and discomfort almost immediately. Switching to a cow’s milk alternative such as rice milk, coconut milk, or oat milk may be the best solution for the child, but it is necessary to recognise the differences in nutritional value. For instance, rice milk has far less protein than cow’s milk, as well as less fat. These differences may negatively impact a child’s growth and development. However, a qualified pediatrician can make suggestions for supplements to increase vital proteins and fat for young children, outside of cow’s milk, once CMPA has been diagnosed.

This article is for educative purposes only and not to be substituted for professional medical advice.

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