Milk Allergies Are On The Rise Among Children

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
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Allergies are complicated, especially food-borne allergies. Sometimes the reactions are simple, a rash or eczema that can be easily treated with an antihistamine like Benadryl, or a hydrocortisone cream. But others are severe, and there is nothing more terrifying to a parent than seeing their child have an allergic reaction. As little as a single drop of milk can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe milk allergy.

What is anaphylaxis? According to, anaphylaxis occurs when a person has been exposed to an allergen and has symptoms that involve the skin, nose, mouth or gastrointestinal tract. They may have difficulty breathing or reduced blood pressure that can lead to weak pulse, confusion or loss of consciousness. They may also have skin symptoms like hives, rash or swollen lips. Vomiting, diarrhea and cramping may also occur. Anaphylaxis is extremely dangerous and can be deadly. If a person goes into anaphylactic shock, they must have a shot of epinephrine to regulate their body’s processes and counteract the allergic reaction.

More and more we are hearing stories of death by anaphylaxis from milk products. Recent studies show that milk allergies have replaced nuts as the top food allergen in children.

What many people don’t understand is that cow’s milk allergies are often severe. Cow’s milk is used in so many of our foods that it can cause reactions frequently. It is the most common food allergy in children younger than five years, and accounts for about half of all food allergies in children younger than one year. It is an allergy that many children will outgrow, but if it persists into the teenage years, it can be much more serious.

WebMD reports that the average age of a child’s first reaction to a milk allergy is less than two years old. Initial reactions include vomiting, diarrhea, hives and eczema. While children with milk allergies are twice as likely to outgrow the allergy than other common food allergies, they are still concerning and sometimes confusing.

“Because lactose intolerance is so common, people don’t think of milk allergy as something that can be significant or severe,” said Ruchi Gupta, MD, director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, as reported by WebMD.


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Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are not the same thing. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine doesn’t produce enough lactase to digest the lactose in milk; allergy is an immune response to a foreign matter that the body has become particularly sensitive to.

Frustrated by a lack of data about food allergies, Gupta and her colleagues launched a nationally representative survey of 38,480 American parents in 2009, which was updated in 2015 and 2016. The results were interesting.

“‘We don’t know why milk allergy is becoming more persistent,’ Gupta said. And, she warned, only one in four children with a milk allergy had a current prescription for an epinephrine autoinjector, compared with about 70% of children with peanut allergy about one-third of milk-allergic children in the study were 11 years and older. And among adults who self-reported symptoms, milk allergy was as common as peanut allergy 1.9% vs. 1.8%.”

According to, “About 2.5% of children under the age of two are allergic to milk. One in every 13 children has a food allergy—that’s about two in every U.S. classroom. And every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.”

Christine Olsen, MD, cofounder and chief executive officer of the Food Allergy Initiative, told WebMD that while genetics play a role in allergies, they’re not the only factor. “There may be a genetic predisposition, but there must be something environmental that has influenced the development of food allergies.”

It has been suggested that processed foods, chemical additives and hygienic surroundings are playing a role in food allergies. The body’s natural response to what is considered a noxious substance is causing an immune response more often because of these environmental changes.

“If you think of the fact that some kids outgrow their allergies and some adults get allergies, that suggests there’s some lever that you can turn on and off,” said Olsen.

So what does a parent do? Can you prevent food allergies? Maybe. Some research suggests that early exposure to allergens can reduce the risk of reaction. In a 2019 report, the American Academy Of Pediatrics confirmed its 2008 recommendations on giving common allergens to babies. “There is no reason to delay giving your baby foods that are thought of as allergens like peanut products, eggs or fish,” said Dr. Scott Sicherer, MD, FAAP, a coauthor of the report. “These foods can be added to the diet early, just like foods that are not common allergens, like rice, fruits or vegetables.”

If you suspect that your child has an allergy, have them tested as soon as possible. Food allergies can be lifelong and life threatening. For those with the most severe allergies the Mayo Clinic recommends you take the following important steps.

Make Sure Your Child’s Caretakers Are Aware Of Your Child’s Allergy

It is important to notify those who your children regularly interact with about the food allergy. It should be well noted at school, with child care providers, friends, and their trusted adults, that your child has an allergy. It’s important they know how serious food allergies can be, and that they sometimes require emergency medical attention. Be sure that your child is also prepared for an emergency and knows to always ask for help right away.

Teach Others To Recognize Food Allergy Symptoms

Educate adults who spend time with your child about their allergy. Teach them how to recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Make A Written Action Plan

It is imperative to have a written action plan for anyone who is supervising your child. This should detail exactly what is to happen if your child comes into contact with a food allergen.

Use A Medical Alert Bracelet Or Necklace

A medical alert bracelet or necklace is a great way to help keep your child safe. This will alert others of the allergy and help them to provide assistance in an emergency.

Food allergies can be complicated and frustrating, but they can be managed. If you follow the proper steps to protect yourself and your child, they can live a full and happy life — and you can breathe a little easier.

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