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How to Spot a Dairy Allergy in Kids

I have talked about how we deal with my daughter’s dairy allergy in the past, and in the post I talked a little about how we discovered that my daughter had a dairy allergy. The thing is, it took us a long time (18 months to be exact) to figure out that dairy was the issue.

For some kids, it is easier to spot a dairy allergy, while in other kids it can be harder. Every child is different, and just as how hard it can be to spot a dairy allergy varies with each child, the severity of symptoms can vary as well. No matter how severe the symptoms are, you just want to make your child feel better, so learning the symptoms of a dairy allergy can help you help your child.

What is a dairy allergy anyway?

Cow’s milk allergy (or dairy allergy) is one of the most common allergies in infants and children. About 2.5% of children under three have a cow’s milk allergy and most children outgrow the allergy eventually. If your child is going to have an allergy to cow’s milk, she will most likely develop this allergy within the first year, even if it takes you longer to figure out what is wrong.

There is a huge difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance. Many people think they are the same thing, but they are very different. A milk allergy invokes a response from the immune system, meaning that the immune system overreacts to the food being in the body. This can be very mild to severe and life threatening. Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, does not involve the immune system. Those who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme lactase, which means the person cannot breakdown the lactose found in milk. This leads to bloating, gas, discomfort, nausea, and diarrhea. It is uncomfortable, but not life threatening.

How to Spot a Dairy Allergy

What are the symptoms of a dairy allergy?

The symptoms of a dairy allergy are varied and can be very mild, in the form of a rash, or life threatening, such as anaphylaxis. These symptoms can even vary from each different exposure in the same child or person.

Symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Throat tightness
  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Red spots
  • Itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling
  • Anaphylaxis

If your child is having difficulty breathing, has swelling of her lips, tongue or throat, wheezing, throat tightness, or any other symptoms of anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately and get help.

How do I determine if my child has a dairy allergy?

There are a few different ways your doctor may try to diagnose your child.

Most doctors will start by just eliminating dairy. If your infant or child’s symptoms go away, then your doctor will tell you to just avoid dairy for a period of time. After some time, your doctor may decide to challenge the allergy by giving your child a dairy food (such as cheese or milk) to see if the symptoms persist. This may happen about once a year until your child has outgrown the allergy or it is determined that your child may not outgrow it.

If your child has an anaphylactic or life threatening allergy, your doctor may choose to do some blood tests to determine the amount of dairy antibodies are in your child’s blood. This will help determine if your child will outgrow the allergy and if the amount of antibodies are decreasing.

The last resort is usually allergy testing. This is where they take needles and stick your infant or child on the back or arm with different common allergens and wait for a reaction. Many doctors will try other methods before resorting to this. Your doctor will most likely have you eliminate other common allergens, change detergents (if it is a skin reaction), and such prior to subjecting your child to this. Often times, the infants and children who have this done have several allergies, not just one.

If you think your child has a dairy allergy, make sure to talk to your child’s doctor.

How do I manage a dairy allergy in my child?

At first, managing a dairy allergy can seem overwhelming and near impossible, but I assure you it gets easier. The first month or so is the hardest. The first thing you want to do is to start looking at food labels. If a food has any milk or milk product in it do not give it to your child. There are many things that have milk in them that you may not think have milk in the, such as certain brands of hot dogs. Just learn how to read ingredient labels, most have the common allergens listed in bold below the ingredient list.

For example, this is the ingredient list for my daughter’s soy milk. Notice how at the end of the ingredient list is says “allergy warning”? Most foods will have this, but not all. It is a quick way for you to see if it contains milk, but even if it is not there, you should still double check the ingredient list.

Example Ingredient List

Most boxed foods and prepackaged foods will have milk in them. For example, boxed cake mixes contain milk, so just make sure you are looking. Once you know what things don’t have dairy in them, it will make your life easier because you won’t have to check those labels.

You can also switch out your child’s milk or formula for a soy or other non-dairy milk. They can be just as nutritious and your child may like it better because it doesn’t upset their stomach. If you are cooking, you can switch out milk for soy milk, and actually soy milk makes things like cake and mashed potatoes better. This means if you are cooking at home, there is no reason your child can’t eat what you are eating.

You will find over time that it is easier to cook your own meals instead of buying boxed or pre-prepared meals, or even going out to eat, because you know exactly what goes in them. In fact, you will save money and be healthier for it too! You can also learn more about how we have dealt with my daughter’s dairy allergy if you want.

Dairy allergies are no fun for anyone, but learning how to spot them and deal with a dairy allergy can make your life a little easier, and make your child more comfortable.

Does your child have a dairy allergy? What symptoms did your child have?

Thanks for reading, Cassie

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