All you need to know about milk protein allergy
Milk protein allergy is commonly known as milk allergy or cow’s milk allergy. It is not uncommon for them to be lumped together with lactose intolerance.
This is not surprising in principle with quite similarly occurring symptoms. Nevertheless, it is important to clearly differentiate a milk protein allergy from the intolerance to milk sugar.
Because regardless of the similarity of symptoms in the origin, occurrence and treatment, the allergy differs significantly from intolerance. In the following article, I would like to take a closer look at the hypersensitivity to milk protein.
What it means
An immune reaction to proteins contained in animal milk characterizes the milk protein hypersensitivity.
Basically, it often refers to cow’s milk or its products, but proteins from other types of milk (such as sheep’s milk or goat’s milk) can also cause allergic reactions.
Different proteins trigger the allergy to milk protein. I should especially emphasize three of them – namely casein and two whey proteins: alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin.
If allergy sufferers react exclusively to whey proteins, heated milk products (such as UHT milk) or sheep or goat milk may not trigger an allergic reaction.
That happens because whey proteins decompose during the heating process and are animal-specific.
It is different with allergies to casein. Casein is very heat-resistant and non-animal specific, so the affected person has to avoid all dairy products generally.
In many cases, there is an allergy to both components, i.e. whey protein and casein.
Occurrence, causes and symptoms
It is not uncommon for the immune system to mistakenly classify milk proteins as attackers and to react with corresponding physical symptoms.
I would like to provide you with useful information about the frequency and causes of a milk protein allergy below.
Frequency and reasons for a milk allergy
A hypersensitivity to milk protein often affects especially small children and even infants. We can easily assume a percentage of around two percent here. Even with adults, milk allergy still accounts for about one percent.
The reason for the different percentages, where allergies usually last a lifetime? Infants and young children are more often affected by a milk allergy because their intestines are still immature and more permeable.
In addition, especially in the case of non-breastfed babies, contact with the milk protein usually marks the first contact with foreign proteins. Thus, the likelihood that the immune system will react in this case increases.
It can be shown on the basis of research results that children are more likely to suffer from a milk protein allergy if they are not breastfed or also in premature babies (immature intestines).
As the intestine matures and the immune system becomes more accustomed to foreign protein, we can observe a decrease in allergy symptoms in childhood.
It is, therefore, quite possible that children up to the age of three no longer have any symptoms, even though they suffered from a milk allergy in infancy. This also explains the lower percentage in adults.
In addition, we should not neglect to mention genetic disposition. Like many other allergies, milk protein allergy occurs frequently within the straight bloodline.
Signs of a milk hypersensitivity
A milk allergy basically causes the same symptoms in infants, children and adults. Significant, and therefore worth mentioning, difference: Failure to thrive may occur in babies and very young children.
It is essential to pay attention to this! Refusal to eat and severe colic are also typical signs in infants and young children.
Symptoms usually appear immediately after the consumption of the protein. However, sometimes delays can happen. Allergic reactions affect often also the skin and the gastrointestinal tract.
Overview of symptoms
Signs on the skin: redness, swelling, inflammation, rash, pustules, eczema, neurodermatitis, itching, etc.
Symptoms in the area of the gastrointestinal tract: cramps, abdominal pain, flatulence, constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, …
In the respiratory system region: runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, asthma
Signs in the area of the cardiovascular system: headache (see natural home remedies for headaches & migraines), dizziness, rapid heartbeat, cardiac arrhythmia, in the worst case: anaphylactic shock.
Diagnosis and treatment
Below you will learn about how a physician generally determines a milk protein allergy, and in what way a corresponding test is possible in babies and toddlers. You will also find out what is the deal with a therapy for a milk allergy.
Test for milk protein hypersensitivity
There are a number of diagnostic options for a milk allergy. Classic methods such as the antibody test (blood test for IgE antibodies) and the prick test (skin test, in which the doctors apply the allergen to the skin after slight scratching).
Also, the provocation test (after an elimination diet in which the patient consistently avoids milk) is useful. All of these tests, including medical observation (the suspected allergen supplied to the body), are primarily designed for older children and adults. They usually deliver valid results.
However, it is obvious that they use such stressful examinations less frequently in infants and young children. Here they base a diagnosis primarily on anamnesis interview and assessment of the symptoms that occur.
If your medical professional suspects a milk allergy in babies and young children, where the diet exclusively or mainly provides milk, it should result in a replacement of food from the pharmacy.
If the symptoms improve in this way, the milk protein allergy gets classified as probable. It is important to check this preliminary diagnosis regularly, as a milk allergy often grows in babies and toddlers.
First of all, the therapy depends on which proteins in milk cause an allergic reaction.
If the body only reacts to whey protein, it is possible that heavily heated milk or milk products as well as sheep or goat milk are tolerated. It is important to find out with medical help and adjust the diet accordingly.
Unfortunately, many allergy sufferers react to both types of protein and here the therapy always provides for renunciation.
However, there are now good animal milk alternatives on the market that can easily be incorporated into the diet. In addition to soy milk, these are, for example, almond milk, coconut milk or rice milk.
It is important not to neglect hidden milk sources. Nutritional advice can be helpful here.
I advise caution, for example, with finished products, such as pies and sausage products, meat spreads, salad dressings, chocolate or breakfast spreads, since these can include milk powder.
If necessary, the specialist can also prescribe medications, such as antihistamines or creams containing cortisone.
If you’re affected by milk protein allergy, then always keep an eye on your calcium levels. It can drop when refraining from dairy products.
Please, let us know what you’re thinking about this topic. Have you any experience with hypersensitivity against milk? Any questions or advice from your end?
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