Cow's milk allergy prevalent among children but often misdiagnosed

newbornsSINGAPORE: Cow's milk allergy is one of the most common childhood allergies but it is often misdiagnosed, say doctors.

It is believed that 3.5% of all children who have severe reactions to food are allergic to cow's milk.

Angry rashes plagued Charlotte Lum from the time she was just five weeks old.

Doctors she went to told her parents it was eczema.

The girl continued to suffer till she was three.

 Her mother, Stella Lum, said: "We didn't think it was an allergy. We thought it was an eczema problem, that was the diagnosis from the paediatricians from the very beginning. So, we made sure that everything was clean and we gave her the appropriate cream for her bath and daily use. In terms of food allergy, it didn't occur to us, until it was highlighted by her teacher and also when I shared this information with my friend who has been treating skin problem. She said that maybe we should do a test on the food."

Looking back, her parents realised the allergy started at the same time they began supplementing Charlotte's diet of breast milk with formula milk.

A skin prick test done just a few months ago showed Charlotte was not only allergic to cow's milk but also to eggs, cheese and even salmon and cod.

Diagnosing cow's milk allergy is also made more difficult by the fact that the symptoms of the allergy are similar to those of ailments such as viral infection.

These include having phlegm, wheezing, weight loss, diarrhoea and even bloody stools.

In fact the allergy is sometimes being mistaken for lactose-intolerance, which is an allergy to the sugar component in the milk.

Dr Terence Tan, a consultant paediatrician and neonatologist at Mount Alvernia Medical Centre, said: "Most parents should understand that cow's milk protein allergy is a very specific allergy or reaction to cow's milk protein. I think it's important for parents to realise that the allergy can present in many ways. But one of the characteristics is that the symptoms don't go away, for example, phlegmmy, the phlegm or the eczema does not go away, it just keeps coming back, or the kids have abdominal discomfort, colicky and these don't go away."

Although there's no data to show just how many children in Singapore are allergic to cow's milk, it is known to be one of the most common allergies among young children.

But the good news is that up to 90% of them will eventually outgrow this condition, by the age of five.

They can also switch to drinking soya-based milk or goat's milk.

But doctors stress that breast milk is still the best.