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Milk: a common food allergy in children

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Milk. The ad may say that it does a body good. But, that’s not necessarily true. Did you know – one of the most common food allergy’s in infants and young children is to cow’s milk? Approximately 2.5 percent of children under the age of three are allergic to milk, and infants who develop the allergy do so during their first year of life.

Leah Ward, Birmingham mother of one, has dealt with a milk allergy first hand.

“My son has had an allergy to milk since he was born," said Leah. "When he was around six months old he started suffering from severe eczema. It was so bad in some spots it would turn into open sores. For months, I just treated the symptoms of eczema, but then I started to research eczema and food allergies and learned that eczema was one of the symptoms of a milk allergy.”

Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance because people can experience the same symptoms. So, what’s the difference between the two? A milk allergy is a problem involving the immune system, whereas lactose intolerance involves the digestive system.

When a person is allergic to a particular food, the immune system overreacts to proteins in that food. People who are allergic to cow’s milk react negatively to one or more of the proteins in it. Every time a person eats these proteins, their body thinks they are being attacked by harmful invaders. The immune system responds by trying to fend off the “invaders”, thus causing an allergic reaction. Milk allergies, like most food allergies cause an allergic reaction to occur within minutes to hours after eating foods that contain milk proteins.

Here are some of the problems one can experience during an allergic reaction:

  • Hives
  • Red spots
  • Vomiting
  • Stomachache
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing

There is no question that the list of milk-containing foods is enormous! Of course milk, butter, and cheese are on the list, but also whey, which is found in almost every packaged food. While the federal Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that all packaged food products sold in the U.S. that contain milk must list the word ‘milk’ on the label, ingredients in packaged foods may change without warning. This makes it crucial to check labels every time you shop.

When asked what tips she could give to others who face the challenges of having a child with a milk allergy, Leah had this to say:

“Read every label! And research 'hidden dairy'. There are many ingredients that contain dairy, such as milk derivatives that go by numerous names. It's a good idea to get a list of these 'hidden dairy' items and take it to the grocery store with you. Completely eliminating all items containing dairy is very difficult and can get pretty expensive, but it’s so worth it. I can tell my son feels so much better now that he is completely milk free.”

Here is a list of some code words you should watch out for when reading labels. If any of these items are listed then the food contains milk proteins.

  • Artificial butter or cheese flavor
  • Casein or caseinates
  • Curd
  • Ghee
  • Hydrolysates
  • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
  • Lactose, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, lactulose
  • Rennet
  • Whey or whey products

After reading the list of code words to watch out for, you may be scared to buy anything due to fear. But, don't fret. Here are some acceptable alternatives for your milk-free kiddo.

  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Almond milk
  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Non-dairy ice cream, chocolate, cheese, and yogurt

If you are in need of some tasty recipes for your milk-intolerant toddler, click here!

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