Cow’s milk protein allergy, or CMPA, is one of the most common health conditions impacting children from a very young age. Throughout the UK, an estimated 7% of non-breastfed babies develop CMPA, although the condition may go away on its own by the age of three or four. As prevalent as cow’s milk protein allergy is, many parents are unaware of its warning signs, and the devastating impact I can have on a child’s well-being both early in their life and as they age. The first step in raising awareness of CMPA is understanding the warning signs of the condition, along with the route to an accurate diagnosis. Here’s what parents should know about CMPA and how it can be treated over time.
Recognising the Symptoms
Cow’s milk protein allergy in children can present in two ways – either IgE-mediated or non-IgE mediated allergies. With the former, young children experience symptoms almost immediately after ingesting cow’s milk. This can be an easier condition to diagnosis because of the fast onset of symptoms. For children with non-IgE mediated allergy, warning signs of the condition do not appear for several days or weeks, making it more difficult to diagnose accurately. However, in either case of cow’s milk protein allergy, parents should be on the lookout for the following digestive, respiratory, and skin issues in young children.
- Bloody stools
- Vomiting after eating
- Sore throat
- Persistent cough
- Wheezing after feeding
- Sneezing or running nose
- Tightness or swelling in the throat
- Hives on the skin
- Rashes on the face
- General irritability after eating
One of more of these symptoms of CMPA should alert a parent that a child may be having a reaction to their diet. These issues take place because the digestive system is attacking the proteins found in cow’s milk, making them difficult or impossible to digest properly. Scheduling a visit with a doctor soon after symptoms arise is necessary for getting the right diagnosis and eventual treatment plan.
Working to get a Diagnosis
One of the issues with CMPA in small children is the vagueness of symptoms and warning signs. Parents and doctors may initially view digestive problems or an unwillingness to eat as normal infant behaviour. However, acting with caution when any one of the above symptoms takes place is in the best interest of the child.
Because the warning signs of cow’s milk protein allergy are common among other less severe medical issues with children, getting the right diagnosis is not always an easy task. According to a group of medical negligence solicitors in the UK, a proper diagnosis of CMPA requires a lengthy family medical history along with a review of ongoing symptoms. The process also involves ruling out other medical conditions that mimic CMPA discomfort. When a parent does not have family medical history data, or if a complete diary of symptoms is not provided to the doctor, getting an accurate diagnosis for CMPA may not be quick. In some cases, parents are told that the child is simply colicky and no treatment is available for sporadic irritability. Often, another condition is initially diagnosed that requires a different course of action for easing symptoms. When CMPA is not properly identified and treated through alternative protein sources, children can grow up to have serious digestive issues that are difficult to treat over their lifetime.
A recommended strategy for keeping misdiagnosis at bay is having an open and honest discussion with the doctor about the severity and frequency of symptoms. Keeping a diary of issues relating to feeding is beneficial, as is discussing at-home remedies for easing discomfort. If the doctor is not entertaining the idea of CMPA diagnosis, parents should feel confident in getting a second opinion if symptoms do not cease with recommended treatment plans.
Cow’s Milk Alternatives
While it may seem as though cow’s milk protein allergy is difficult to identify, once a diagnosis is received, treatment options are available. Many doctors and parents pursue alternatives to cow’s milk that gives the digestive system a break from harsh proteins. Cow’s milk alternatives may include rice, hemp, or oat milk, but it is necessary for parents to determine which is best fit for their child. Alternatives to cow’s milk often have less protein and calories which can slow down a child’s growth. Discussing these issues with a peadiatrician is necessary to ensure the child’s diet is as well-rounded as possible.
Managing CMPA is possible for parents, but it requires an understanding of common warning signs and the symptoms that arise when proteins are not digested properly. Once symptoms are identified, working with the doctor to get the right diagnosis is key to having a happy, healthy child with a strong digestive system as they age.