Cows' milk allergy (CMA) has considerable negative effects on the family unit, as exposed by findings from an international survey. In addition to coping with the disturbing physical effects of the condition on the child (including vomiting, diarrhoea, failure to thrive and eczema), 70% of parents of children with CMA said that it makes them feel guilty and distressed and 82% said that it has caused them to lose sleep. 1
Cows' milk is the most common cause of food allergy in infants and children, affecting approximately 2-3% of infants internationally.2 The major symptoms of cows' milk allergy include skin rash, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, failure to thrive (put on weight) and distress.3
Dr Martin Brueton, an Act Against Allergy Advisory Board Member and Emeritus Paediatric Gastroenterologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, UK, commented: "Having a child with cows' milk allergy can be very stressful for parents. The average baby with cows' milk allergy may suffer from an array of symptoms, from skin rashes to gastric problems, cries a lot and often shows problems with weight gain. Parents feel helpless as the instinct to feed their infant even more milk - usually the infant's sole food source - compounds rather than solves the problem. Until the child is properly diagnosed and put onto a suitable milk substitute, the impact on the parents and the family as a whole is considerable."
In the survey, commissioned by Act Against Allergy, further impact on family life was revealed. As a direct result of having a child with CMA, half (49%) the respondents have missed work, over a third (38%) have argued with their partner and 39% said the lives of other children in the family have also been disrupted.1
These findings were no surprise to Natalie Hammond, from Hertfordshire, UK, whose son Joe was diagnosed with CMA when he was six months old. Joe was initially misdiagnosed and even underwent surgery for a twisted bowel before doctors finally discovered that CMA was the cause of his illness. Mrs. Hammond said: "It was heartbreaking and frightening seeing Joe so sick - he would vomit and had blood in his stools. We felt utterly powerless, and couldn't believe a simple food like milk could do this. It took a long time to get over this terrifying and stressful experience."
Cows' milk is one of the European Union's 'big eight' allergy-inducing foods alongside gluten, eggs, fish, peanuts, soya, treenuts and shellfish. 4 More serious than lactose intolerance, a true milk allergy presents in one or more of three organ systems:
- Gastrointestinal (vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, bloating) - affecting 50-60% of those with CMA
- Skin (rashes, including eczema and atopic dermatitis) - 50-70%
- Respiratory (wheeze, cough, runny nose) - 20-30%
For further information on cows' milk allergy, see: www.actagainstallergy.com
1. Telephone Survey among 1,000 European Parents of Children Aged 0-3 Years and 505 healthcare professionals (HCPs), spread equally across the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. KRC Research, November/December 2005
2. Niggemann B et al. Prospective, controlled, multi-center study on the effect of an amino acid based formula in infants with cows' milk allergy/intolerance and atopic dermatitis. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2001;12:78-82
3. Host A et al. Dietary products used in infants for treatment and prevention of food allergy. Arch Dis Child. 1999;81:80-84
4. Lehrer SB et al. Current understanding of food allergens. Ann N Acad Sci. 2002: 964; 69-85.