National charity Allergy UK is urging doctors and parents to educate themselves on the most common food allergy in infants; a condition which, if not correctly diagnosed and treated, can seriously affect health and development, and cause distress to both the child affected, and their carers.
This is following a comprehensive new report which shows a widespread lack of awareness and understanding of cows’ milk allergy (CMA), its symptoms* and effects, within the medical community and amongst the UK’s parents.
Of the parents surveyed, whose children have been diagnosed with CMA, nearly one in five visited their GP 10 times or more while, in the average case, parents had to make five trips to their doctor before diagnosis1.This could be due to the fact that approximately 70% of GPs and health visitors feel they are not informed on identifying the delayed type* of CMA in children2.
Whilst it is the most common food allergy in infants and young children, with a prevalence of up to 7% of babies in the UK3, too often the connection between symptoms is not made, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment.
The delay in diagnosis of CMA can create an emotional burden for parents, with 81% answering that they felt powerless while their child was ill1. Over half (57%) of parents felt responsible for their child’s condition and 58% said they doubted themselves as a parent1.
Experts say the problem of diagnosis lies in the symptoms being both diverse and common – including skin disorders (atopic dermatitis) and respiratory complaints, which are often first attributed to other conditions by doctors. Additionally, symptoms may be delayed – occurring hours or even days after milk is consumed.
The research released today shows that while 75% of parents say they have heard of CMA, 50% could not identify any symptoms. Three quarters of parents said their child had experienced one or more of the symptoms of CMA, but an overwhelming 70% of these parents had never considered it could be connected to an allergy4.
GPs themselves, who were also questioned for the report, recognised that there needs to be more information and training made available to doctors, with 70% saying they would like more information on CMA2. 77% of GPs and health visitors agreed that they would be better placed to give better support to parents if they had greater confidence and knowledge of the condition2.
The main message of the report, co-authored by leading paediatric allergy specialist, trustee and chair of Allergy UK Health Advisory Board, Dr Adam Fox, and General Practitioner Dr David Mass, is that more awareness is needed among GPs, health visitors and parents to encourage earlier recognition and effective management.
“If you’re not looking for CMA, you won’t find it”, says Dr Adam Fox “that is why it is important for both healthcare professionals and parents to be informed about the symptoms of cows’ milk allergy and consider it earlier.”
Jenni Falconer, television presenter, and mum, agreed to lend her support to the campaign as a direct result of her own lack of awareness. “Prior to this campaign, I had little knowledge of cows’ milk allergy and this is something I was keen to change, particularly as a new mum who wants to be informed of anything that could affect my baby girl. It is frustrating when we don’t understand why our baby is upset, after all they can’t just tell us what’s wrong! With this allergy, there can be a delay in diagnosis so I urge all parents to find out about the common symptoms of CMA and to speak to their doctor or health visitor if they are concerned. Our children’s health is of paramount importance and often their well-being is the impact of us taking action: it is far better to be safe rather than sorry.”
Developed in partnership between Allergy UK and infant nutrition specialists Danone Baby Nutrition and Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition, ACT on CMA is an awareness campaign to help increase knowledge and understanding of cows’ milk allergy, leading to earlier recognition and effective management. The initiative also aims to provide parents with useful information and support through what can be a difficult journey to diagnosis.
ACT stands for:
- Awareness of the symptoms
- Connect the symptoms together
- Take action – could it be CMA?
Parents who are concerned about their child should consult their GP or health visitor. They can also visit www.cowsmilkallergy.co.uk for more support and information, and to learn how to ACT on CMA.
*Symptoms of CMA to Look Out For
Symptoms can be immediate or delayed. Immediate reactions occur very quickly after the infant has consumed cows’ milk, so are relatively easy to pick up. Reactions are common when weaning or if changing from breast feeding to formula. A red itchy rash around baby’s mouth, facial swelling, hives (red itchy lumps) on the body, streaming nose, sickness and vomiting, may be because the child is having an immediate allergic reaction. In more severe reactions, there may be breathing difficulties, and if this is the case an ambulance should be called immediately.
This is quite rare in infants. Some symptoms come on much more slowly and are more difficult to spot. These are known as delayed reactions and may cause chronic symptoms such as eczema, reflux, colic, poor growth or even constipation.
- CMA affects between 2 and 7.5 % of babies3, although up to 15% may exhibit symptoms suggesting CMA at some time5.
- When infants and children are fed cows’ milk or any parts of it, this can trigger allergic reactions. By avoiding the ‘proteins’ in cows’ milk completely, the symptoms caused by this reaction can be eliminated6. Cows’ milk should never be excluded from the diet without the advice of a healthcare professional as it provides so many important nutrients.
- Allergy UK, Danone Baby Nutrition and Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition provide information, advice and support to parents who have a child with CMA.
- Visit www.cowsmilkallergy.co.uk or call the Allergy UK helpline at 01322 619898 / visit www.allergyuk.org
1. Allergy UK survey of CMA awareness among 328 parents of children diagnosed with CMA. 2012. Data on file.
2. Independent survey panel of CMA awareness among 250 HCPs; 150 GPs and 100 Health Visitors. 2012. Data on file.
3. Hill DJ, et al. Manifestations of milk allergy in infancy: clinical and immunologic findings. J Pediatr 1986; 109 (2): 270-6.
4. Independent survey panel of CMA awareness among 1,000 parents of children under one. 2012. Data on file.
5. Høst A. Frequency of cow’s milk allergy in childhood. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2002; 89(6 Suppl 1):33-7.
6. Cows’ Milk Allergy. Cows’ Milk Allergy in Children [Online]. Available at: http://www.cowsmilkallergy.co.uk/cma/what_is_cma/view/cows_milk_allergy_in_children. [Accessed: May 2012].