Telethon Kids Institute-Joondalup Health Campus: Cow’s milk protein allergies on rise in kids

Telethon Kids Institute-Joondalup Health Campus: Cow’s milk protein allergies on rise in kids

The Origins Project – a collaboration led by Telethon Kids Institute and the Joondalup Health Campus – is the largest study of its kind in Australia, following 10,000 families over the next decade to improve child and adult health. This week’s Origins column is by Joondalup Health Campus paediatrician Dr Jamie Tan.

MANY new parents have grand visions of their angelic little peanut slumbering peacefully. In reality, there are many frazzled zombies caring for their young infants who are struggling with sleep deprivation and challenging outbursts of crying.

Periods of crying and unrest are typical for normally developing infants, and most of the time diet or food allergy is not the cause.

However, food allergies are certainly increasing – and one of the more common food allergies we are seeing with babies through our research within The Origins Project is cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA). Up to three out of every 100 babies are developing this allergy in their first year of life – and that number appears to be on the rise.

CMPA is not the same as lactose intolerance – which is quite rare in young babies, but frequently over-diagnosed.

CMPA can have diverse symptoms, ranging from persistent general distress or colic, to skin rashes and eczema, to gastrointestinal symptoms such as frequent regurgitation/vomiting, or mucous or blood in the stools.

Some reactions that are “immediate” can happen within minutes of consuming cow’s milk and generally require urgent medical attention. However, the more common delayed type of CMPA is caused by a different part of the immune system and may take days for symptoms to appear.

The problem? It can be difficult to identify whether these symptoms, which commonly occur in many babies, are due to CMPA. There are no blood or skin tests for delayed onset CMPA.

Dr Jamie Tan.

So, what should a parent do if they think their child may have CMPA? The good news is there’s a range of simple management options available, including eliminating dairy from the breastfeeding mother’s diet, or using specialised formula for bottle-fed infants where the cow’s milk protein is extensively “broken down” to minimise reactivity. Another positive note is that most children outgrow this allergy – often after just one year.

Detecting CMPA early in your child can have a range of benefits – including improved growth and weight gain, the ability to safely continue breastfeeding, and a likely reduction in misery!

If you think your child may have CMPA, it’s a good idea to discuss with your GP, paediatrician, or qualified health professional.

The Origins Project provides families with free allergy and immunology consults, helping families to navigate CMPA and other common allergies. Families who have recently or are planning on having a baby delivered at Joondalup Health Campus are eligible to join the Project by contacting originsproject@telethonkids.org.au