A recent study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood shed some light on the growing trend to diagnose infants with a milk allergy, suggesting that parents and doctors may be a bit too quick to diagnose cow’s milk as the culprit behind infant food reactions.

The study followed over 13,000 infants between 2004 and 2006. Parents reported any adverse skin, respiratory or gastrointestinal reactions that were believed to be linked to cow’s milk protein in infant formulas or passed through breast milk.

Of the children in the study, 381 went through allergy testing, and 138 had an adverse reaction to the proteins in cow’s milk. The remaining 243 were considered mislabeled cow’s milk allergic based on symptoms and test results.

The parents of infants with mislabeled allergies were told to resume cow’s milk in the diet, as 58% of those parents had switched to soy based formula or milk. The infants with antibody-confirmed milk protein allergies had multiple organs affected by the allergy, while the group that was mislabeled only had one organ, usually the gastrointestinal tract, affected.

Overall, the study showed that nearly all of the mislabeled allergies were able to resume cow’s milk without problem, suggesting that it was merely a virus or atopic dermatitis that lead to the misdiagnosis.

What we can take away from this is that when parents, and some doctors, blame cow’s milk as a culprit without proper testing, we can be setting children up for a chance of developing a true milk allergy later in life. The benefits of cow’s milk are far reaching, and we need to be careful to properly diagnose milk related allergies.

Ramie Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT