20. February 2012 | 14:32

What is Cows’ Milk Allergy (CMA)?

Cows' milk allergy (CMA) is the most common food allergy in infants and young children – up to 7.5% of all children suffer from this condition. CMA occurs when the immune system reacts to one or more of the proteins contained in cows' milk.

Cows' milk protein is usually one of the first foods to be introduced into the infant’s diet if they are bottle fed, and is commonly consumed throughout childhood as part of a balanced diet.

Very rarely, exclusively breast-fed babies can also react to cows' milk proteins. These proteins can be passed on to the infant through their mother’s milk if she has been consuming dairy products. In this situation, clinical guidelines recommend that breast-feeding is continued due to its benefits and the mother tries to eliminate cows' milk protein from her diet. If symptoms persist, the mother may be advised to consider using a cows' milk free infant formula to feed her baby.

The symptoms caused by CMA are varied and may affect several organ systems, e.g. the skin, the digestive system or the lungs, possibly resulting in skin rash, eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea, colic, wheezing or excessive crying. The allergic reactions can set in very rapidly (e.g. severe breathing problems, vomiting), but they can also be delayed. An example of a delayed reaction would be a skin rash or diarrhoea which can take up to 3-5 days to appear after consuming cows' milk protein.

Complete avoidance of cows' milk is the only treatment for CMA.