Milk and egg allergies in children – facts and advice

Senior Specialist Dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital
07 February 2019

Cow’s milk and eggs are two of the most common food allergies in children, especially in those under two. Here we give you information and advice to help keep your child safe and healthy if they’re diagnosed.

For more information on food allergies in both children and adults, including what they are and how they happen, see our food allergy information.

Child eating cereals

Milk allergy

Having an allergy to cow’s milk is common in babies and children. If your child has eczema, they’re even more likely to be affected.

You may notice that your child’s symptoms come on relatively quickly (within two hours). Or they may happen more slowly – up to 48 hours or even a week after your child ingests milk. Symptoms may be milder including, for example, a rash or upset tummy, or very serious.

Your child may need to avoid cow’s milk either because they can’t tolerate the cow’s milk proteins or because they are intolerant to lactose (the sugar in milk). Sometimes, it’s because of both.

If your child has a cow’s milk allergy, it’s important to understand how severe it is. Some children can tolerate small amounts of fresh cow’s milk. Others can only tolerate cooked or processed cow’s milk. For some children, even tiny amounts of cow’s milk in their food may cause a reaction.

Many children will grow out of their cow’s milk allergy, but it’s important that you talk to an appropriate healthcare professional such as your GP and/or a dietitian for advice. They’ll be best placed to diagnose the allergy and advise how to manage it going forward.

A dietitian will look at what your child is eating and drinking and monitor their symptoms. They’ll also keep a close eye on their growth and development, including their mood, and make sure that they’re not missing out on any important vitamins and nutrients.

Advice for parents of babies with a cow’s milk allergy

If you’re breastfeeding and your baby is diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy you may need to cut dairy out of your own diet. If so, it’s important that you speak to a dietitian first, as it’s important that you continue to get all the nutrients your body needs.

If you’re not breastfeeding and your baby is diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy, they will be prescribed a suitable ‘hypoallergenic’ formula milk. Doctors recommend that you continue with a hypoallergenic formula until your child is two. However, your dietitian may suggest changing to an alternative milk substitute sooner if they’re happy with your child’s diet on the whole.

Advice for parents of children over two with a cow’s milk allergy

If your child’s diet is good and they have all the nutrients they need, you can start to give them milk alternatives. You’ll need to check this with your doctor or dietitian first. They’ll be able to give you advice and help to reduce the chance of your child developing further allergies.

Alternatives include soya, oat, hemp and coconut milk, to name a few. Here are some things to remember when choosing an alternative.

  • Make sure the milk alternative is fortified with calcium. This mineral is essential to your child’s bone health and general development.
  • Avoid giving rice milk to your child before they are five years old.
  • Other animal milks such as goat’s, buffalo and sheep’s milk are not suitable alternatives. If your child is allergic to cow’s milk, there is a higher chance that they may have a reaction to other animal milks.

Above all, get advice from a recognised health professional for food allergies. You should also seek advice if you are considering excluding certain foods from your child’s diet. Your dietitian should be able to support you and your child through their early years – a time when calcium from a milk source is crucial.

Egg allergy

Egg allergy is common among children and just like cow’s milk allergy, most children will grow out of it. It’s very important to see your GP if you think your child has an egg allergy. They’ll be able to refer you to an allergy specialist who can assess your child and recommend the best possible care.

If your child has an egg allergy, they might be allergic to:

  • all forms of egg, whether they are cooked or not
  • only raw egg (for example, in cake mix and mayonnaise) or slightly cooked eggs like scrambled egg

If your child falls into the latter category, they may still be able to eat baked foods that contain egg, such as cakes and biscuits. But for those who are allergic to even well-cooked egg, the reaction can be severe, so it’s important to avoid all products that contain it.

If your child has an egg allergy, you may want to speak to a dietitian for advice. They’ll be able to discuss your child’s diet and make sure they’re getting the right nutrients while they’re growing. A dietitian will also help to introduce foods to your child’s diet at the right time to help prevent them developing allergies in the future.

Here are some of my top tips if your child has an egg allergy.

  • Check the label. By law, all foods sold in the EU that contain egg have to clearly list it in the ingredients – no matter how small the amount.
  • Tell your waiter or waitress when eating out and about. It’s easy to stock egg-free products at home, but it can be trickier to find them when you’re out and about. Make sure you let the staff in a restaurant know that your child has an egg allergy.
  • Check your supermarket’s website. They usually have a list of products that they stock that are free from egg. Check out the ‘Free from’ ranges in the supermarket aisles too. There are many egg-free products available, such as egg-free mayonnaise.
  • Find egg-free recipes. Look online for egg-free cake and muffin recipes, and other egg-free cooking ideas. These recipes usually use other ingredients such as mashed banana or pureed fruit to help your ingredients bind together.

Egg allergy and vaccinations

Some vaccines contain traces of egg and therefore shouldn’t be given to children who have an egg allergy. This includes the yellow fever vaccine and the standard flu vaccine. Protecting your child against flu is important and there are variations of the flu vaccine that can be given to your child if they have an egg allergy. Your GP or vaccination nurse will be able to give you more information about these vaccines, including where you can access them. The MMR vaccine is considered safe for children with an egg allergy.

Reducing your child’s risk of developing a food allergy

Some babies and children are at a higher risk of getting a food allergy. This includes:

  • those with eczema (especially if the eczema is more severe)
  • those who already have another food allergy

Providing they’re ready, you can usually start to introduce complementary (solid) foods, including foods associated with food allergies like egg and peanut to your baby’s diet at around six months. However, for children at higher risk of developing an allergy, there’s some evidence to suggest that introducing these foods earlier (from four months) may actually help to prevent them from developing an allergy.

If your child’s at risk of developing an allergy, you should seek advice from a suitable healthcare professional before introducing these foods.

Some babies will already be allergic when they are given these foods. If so, stop giving it to them immediately and arrange to see an allergy specialist as soon as possible.

It can be a worry finding out that your child has an allergy. But with a little planning and thought, and the right support, unwanted reactions can be avoided and you can put your mind at ease. Just remember, what’s important is that you understand how strict your child’s diet needs to be, keep on top of what they’re eating and, where possible, offer suitable alternatives to help keep them happy and healthy. And don’t forget that your GP, allergy specialist and dietitian are all there to support you and your child.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when they need it.

Maya Aboukhater
Senior Specialist Dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital

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