Signs and symptoms of cow milk sensitivity

February 11, 2016

Tummy troubles, rashes and chronic congestion can all be caused by cow milk sensitivity. Here’s how to spot it, and how this common problem differs from cow milk allergy.

For some children the introduction of cow milk can lead to rashes, digestive discomfort and chronic congestion. It’s often blamed on cow milk allergy, but you might be surprised at how rare true cow milk allergies are. According to the North American Society Pediatric Gastroenterologists, only about 2-3% of children under the age of six are allergic to the proteins found in cow milk. Lactose intolerance is even less common.

The prevalence of cow milk sensitivity (CMS) is less defined in research, however clinical and parental observation suggests that up to 30-50% of children have at least one symptom consistent with CMS. So what’s the difference?

What is a Cow Milk Protein Allergy?

A confirmed cow milk protein allergy (CMPA) can be a serious health problem. Children with ‘obvious’ CMPA will have an immediate reaction to cow milk that happens within hours of ingestion; for others, symptoms can be delayed. Symptoms will most commonly be moderate to severe in intensity and may include:

  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting and regurgitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Food refusal
  • Failure to thrive
  • Severe colic
  • In rare cases, anaphylactic shock

What is Cow Milk Sensitivity?

Cow milk sensitivity may encompass the delayed, mild to moderate symptoms associated with consumption of cow milk.

Inadequate food breakdown can lead to digestive symptoms that may include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Colic
  • Loose stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

In addition, irritation in the gut may lead to a condition where the normally impermeable gut becomes permeable, what is known as leaky gut. An immune response is then triggered, leading to non-illness related inflammatory symptoms in the lungs and skin such as:

  • Mucous congestion
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Chronic cough
  • Chronic wheezing
  • Eczema
  • Rashes

How do I know the difference?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a food allergy and sensitivity, especially when symptoms are moderate. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to arrive at the correct diagnosis. The most accurate and gold standard diagnostic method for Cow Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) involves the complete avoidance of cow milk for one month, followed by a medically supervised reintroduction and monitoring of symptoms. Other diagnostic tests for CMPA, such as blood tests or a skin-prick test, may be used as supportive diagnostic tools.

KABRITA goat milk foods are not appropriate for children with a confirmed cow milk protein allergy as they might also react to the protein in goat milk. However, we have found that goat milk can be a great solution for children with cow milk sensitivity. Since every child is different, it’s best to work with your healthcare provider if you are concerned about whether your little one’s symptoms stem from allergy or sensitivity.


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