Cow’s milk allergy

Cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common childhood food allergies affecting between 2-7 babies out of every 100.

Symptoms can include skin reactions (red, itchy rash or swelling of the lips, face and around the eyes), digestive problems such as stomach ache, vomiting, colic, diarrhoea or constipation, hayfever-like symptoms such as a runny or blocked nose or eczema to a more severe reaction (anaphylaxis) that comes on suddenly and may result in swelling in the mouth or throat, wheezing, cough, shortness of breath and difficult, noisy breathing.



Food allergies are responsible for around five per cent of all asthma cases and as cow’s milk is a primary cause of food allergies, it is useful to consider the possibility of cow’s milk allergy in the treatment of asthma.



Around one in five children and one in 12 adults in the UK have eczema. One in every ten cases of eczema is triggered by food allergy. The most common food triggers are cow’s milk and eggs, but many other foods including soya, wheat, fish, nuts, citrus fruit, chocolate, peanuts and colourings can act as triggers. When treating eczema, cow’s milk allergy should be considered.


Hay fever

Hay fever is one of the most common allergic conditions affecting up to one in five people in the UK. As cow’s milk allergy is linked to other allergic reactions it may be sensible to consider avoiding all dairy to combat hay fever symptoms.


Gastrointestibal bleeding

Cow’s milk allergy can trigger bleeding from the gut in infants. Blood loss often occurs in such small amounts that it is hard to notice, but over time these losses can cause iron-deficiency anaemia in children. Cow’s milk-induced gastrointestinal bleeding may be to blame for around half the cases of iron-deficiency anaemia in infants.


The only reliable treatment for cow’s milk allergy is to avoid all cow’s milk and dairy products:

  • Milk
  • Milk Powder
  • Milk drinks
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Yogurt
  • Cream
  • Ice cream

People with cow’s milk allergy should also avoid ‘hidden’ ingredients:

  • Casein
  • Caseinates
  • Hydrolysed casein
  • Skimmed milk
  • Skimmed milk powder
  • Milk solids
  • Non-fat milk
  • Whey
  • Whey syrup sweetener
  • Milk sugar solids
  • Lactose


Some of these ingredients can be difficult to avoid as they are commonly used in bread, processed cereals, instant soups, margarine, salad dressings, sweets, cake mix and even crisps. Most supermarkets now produce ‘free-from’ lists of products and many supermarkets also have their own label free-from range. There are even iPhone apps available now to help you identify ingredients by scanning the product bar code.

There are plenty of alternatives: soya ice creams, spreads and yoghurts and dairy-free cheeses. Calcium-enriched soya, rice and oat milks can be used as alternatives to cow’s milk. Find out how easy it is to go dairy-free here.


Read more about Allergies and see our Nutrition News on dairy.

Find out more about dairy-free calcium sources.

Find out what you need to eat each day here.




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