Milk Allergy May Be More Common Among Young Children

A new study presented at the ACAAI annual meeting indicates that cow’s milk allergy may be even more common in babies than previously believed—and that many children outgrow the allergy in early childhood.

“Children in the U.S. spend their early years drinking milk, so it’s important to know that many of them—at least in the first few years—may be allergic,” said Christopher Warren, PhD(c), lead author of the study, during his presentation. “Our findings suggest that while milk allergy is relatively common during infancy, many children are likely to outgrow their milk allergies.”

The researchers found that more than two percent of all U.S. children younger than 5 years have a milk allergy, but that 53 percent of food-allergic infants younger than 1 have the allergy. The randomized, cross-sectional study surveyed more than 53,575 parents from representative households with children across the United States from October 2015 to September 2016. The researchers collected and analyzed data on demographics, allergic symptoms and severity, diagnosis, and tolerance of baked milk in order to examine epidemiological patterns and associations between those factors and the odds of a milk allergy.

Overall, 1.9% of children had a convincing milk allergy. The researchers concluded that although 1 in 4 children sought emergency treatment for a reaction to milk in the previous 12 months, fewer than half had the milk allergy diagnosed by a physician. Furthermore, although an estimated 53 percent of food-allergic infants younger than 1 year had a milk allergy, the number dropped to 41 percent of 1- to 2-year-olds, 34 percent of 3- to -5-year-olds, and 15% of 11- to 17-year-olds.

“We know confusion exists over what a real milk allergy looks like,” said Ruchi Gupta, MD, study co-author. “A child may have a milk intolerance that his parents mistake for a milk allergy. It’s important that any child suspected of having a milk allergy have the allergy confirmed with an allergist.”

The study also found that only 26 percent of milk-allergic children in the United States have a current epinephrine auto-injector prescription.