Types of cows milk allergy

IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy

In an IgE-mediated allergy, symptoms usually appear within minutes or up to two hours after eating anything that contains cow’s milk protein. This is because the immune system reacts to cow’s milk protein by producing IgE antibodies. These antibodies are produced by immune cells and activate the immune system to release chemicals such as histamines, which then trigger an immediate allergic reaction.

If it is IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy, you may notice:

  • Skin symptoms such as itchy rash, hives and swelling of the lips, tongue or face
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as tummy pain, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Hay fever-like symptoms such as sneezing and an itchy, runny or blocked nose
  • Breathing difficulties

In very severe cases, an IgE-mediated allergic reaction could lead to anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that comes on quickly, affects the whole body, and requires medical help straight away. Fortunately, this type of allergic reaction is uncommon.

Non-IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy

In non-IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy, symptoms usually appear after two hours or up to a few days after eating anything containing cow’s milk protein.

Some symptoms of non-IgE-mediated allergy can be similar to those of IgE-mediated allergy. Others might be less obvious and could be mistaken for something other than a food allergy. The signs of non-IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy could include:

  • Colic-type symptoms
  • Skin symptoms such as eczema and itching
  • Reflux
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as unusual stools, tummy pain and constipation

Mixed allergic reaction

Some babies with cow's milk allergy can have mixed allergic reactions, where they have symptoms of both IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated allergy. This means that the symptoms could come on quickly after eating or drinking anything with cow's milk protein and they could also appear after a few days.

Find out more about the symptoms of cow’s milk allergy.

Immunoglobulin E. A class of antibodies produced by the immune system that triggers many of the signs of allergic reactions. IgE antibody levels are often high in children with an allergy.
A nutrient composed of one or more long chain of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms, especially as structural components of body tissues, as enzymes and as antibodies.
A complex group of organs and cells that defends the body against bacteria, viruses and substances that are perceived as harmful.
Proteins produced by the immune system in response to the presence of a substance seen as foreign in order to remove that substance from the body.
Chemicals released as part of the body’s immune response to an allergen that can trigger the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a harmless substance known as an allergen. Babies with cow’s milk allergy have allergic reactions to cow’s milk protein, such as colic (due to cow’s milk allergy), hives, skin rashes and respiratory and digestive problems.
Relating to the stomach and the intestines.
Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a severe symptom of an allergy and can be life threatening. Anaphylaxis usually occurs suddenly after exposure to the allergen and quickly gets worse. Symptoms include: Swelling of the tongue or throat, difficulty in swallowing or speaking, wheezing, persistent cough or severe asthma, dizziness, collapse of loss of consciousness (floppiness in babies), fast heartbeat, clammy skin, itchy, raised rash, feeling or being sick, stomach pain.
A digestive problem that causes complications because of digested food flowing back into the oesophagus. Babies who have reflux may frequently spit up lots of liquid, arch away from the bottle or breast, or seem irritable during or after feedings.

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