Intolerance-allergy to cow's milk proteins

Intolerance-allergy to cow’s milk proteins

Cow’s milk protein allergy is a food allergy. Discover its causes, symptoms and treatment to avoid a serious reaction

What is?

Cow’s milk protein allergy is a food allergy. Allergy is called any immunological reaction mediated by immunoglobulin E. The child creates antibodies against the food and when eating it, a reaction occurs that causes allergic symptoms. There must be a direct relationship between the ingestion of milk or derivatives and the appearance of symptoms.

Cow’s milk protein intolerance is called when the immune mechanism causing the symptoms does not depend on immunoglobulin E; They usually present digestive symptoms that do not affect the child’s growth or good weight gain.

Cow’s milk protein is one of the first foods with which the baby has contact.


To understand allergy to milk proteins, we must first explain how our immune system works.

The human body tries to eliminate everything that it perceives as alien or foreign. This is the way we defend ourselves against viruses or bacteria that cause diseases. Foods are tolerated by the body and, under normal conditions, are not treated as foreign agents that must be eliminated. Cow’s milk protein intolerance is a failure of “tolerance” to the proteins contained in milk. Symptoms do not appear until the child starts drinking milk.

There are cases of breastfed children who present symptoms of allergy to cow’s milk proteins . This is because the mother is drinking milk and her proteins are able to reach the breast and are secreted through breast milk. In all these cases, the baby is genetically predisposed to suffer from this food allergy.

There is a genetic predisposition to food allergy, especially if there is a family history of allergies or atopy , or if the child has atopic eczema or allergic asthma .


The symptoms of allergy to milk are a reflection of the fight that the body is doing to defend itself from what it considers “foreign”, in this case, the proteins in cow’s milk. A first symptom, in the child, may be the systematic rejection of milk because it makes him feel bad.

The symptoms are immediate after contact with milk and can cover a wide range of symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • Urticaria
  • Edema of the tongue, lips and glottis
  • itchy mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • atopic eczema
  • Asthma
  • allergic rhinitis
  • Abdominal pain
  • Poor growth and poor weight gain
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious and life-threatening reaction where two or more organs are affected during the allergic reaction; For example, the child suffers from asthma and urticaria after ingesting milk.


When the Pediatrician suspects the diagnosis of allergy to cow’s milk proteins, he must recommend a diet free of these proteins and refer the child to an allergological study to confirm the diagnosis.

If the baby drinks breast milk, the mother is advised to follow a diet free of milk and derivatives. If the infant is fed artificial milk, it is changed to a milk that does not contain cow protein. In cases of allergy, children improve when they start the special diet.

The allergological study consists of carrying out skin tests ( prick test ) that allow the allergic reaction to different proteins in cow’s milk and other foods to be tested on the skin; An analysis is also carried out that allows us to know how much Immunoglobulin E the child has.

The last test, when the Pediatrician considers it appropriate, is the provocation test that consists of giving, in a controlled manner under medical supervision, increasing amounts of milk and seeing if the child tolerates them or has allergy symptoms. It is always done in the hospital due to the risk of suffering a serious reaction during the test.

In most cases, following the milk exclusion diet for several months, the child is able to successfully pass the challenge test and reintroduce cow’s milk as a normal part of his diet.


Suspecting an allergy to cow’s milk proteins, the first thing to do is remove them from the child’s diet. Remove dairy products and their derivatives and be very careful with the ingredients of foods that contain “camouflaged milk” with other names such as casein or caseinate, lactalbumin, H4511… The doctor will be in charge of giving a list with all the components and preservatives that derive from cow’s milk.

In the case of having suffered anaphylaxis, the child should always carry self-injectable adrenaline with them .

Currently there are milks for infants and children allergic to cow’s milk proteins. They are mainly of two types:

  • Hydrolyzed milk: through a chemical process, the proteins of cow’s milk are broken so that they do not produce an allergic reaction. They can be given from birth but their taste is not as pleasant as that of normal formula milk.
  • Soy milks : its taste is better. They are derived from soy and are recommended from six months of life.
  • Rice milk : its flavor is more pleasant.

It is not recommended to substitute cow’s milk for milk from other mammals such as sheep, goats or donkeys; It has been proven that some children allergic to cow’s milk may also be allergic to these milks. They are also not suitable for babies under one year of age.

The Pediatrician is always the one who must prescribe the special milks.


Breastfeeding prevents the risk of food allergies in children with a family history .

It can prevent the appearance of allergies if the introduction of complementary feeding begins after the sixth month of life, especially in children with a history of food allergy in the family.

You have to follow the Pediatrician’s guidelines in the introduction of new foods and give them when it’s time, without haste.

When to go to the Pediatrician

  • When the child presents allergy symptoms (hives, mouth swelling, difficulty swallowing, digestive disorders, rhinitis or asthma) within two hours of eating a certain food.
  • The child rejects a specific food.

If you have the feeling that some foods do not suit your child, you may be interested in doing one of the food sensitivity and intolerance tests that you can buy at Savia, MAPFRE’s digital health services platform


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