Diagnosing cow’s milk allergy

It can often be a long, difficult and scary process as a parent finding out whether your baby has cow's milk allergy (CMA). But rest assured, these feelings are shared by other parents:1

  • – Almost three quarters of parents described feelings of worry or stress on their way to getting a diagnosis for their baby
  • – The typical journey to diagnosis took on average 6 and a half weeks

It is important to establish the correct diagnosis for your baby before moving on to finding ways to make them feel better. Depending on the symptoms your baby is experiencing your GP will either:2,3

Refer to the local paediatric services immediately (more severe symptoms)

Attempt to diagnose CMA and make sure it is not confused with other conditions (mild symptoms)

Assessing symptoms

Initially, your baby should be assessed through a physical examination by a GP or another healthcare professional.2

At this point, the healthcare professional should also examine your baby’s medical history, looking specifically for any allergy-related conditions. This will include examining:4

  • – Family history of atopic disease (e.g. eczema or asthma)
  • – Sources of cow’s milk protein
  • – Past and present symptoms
  • – Feeding difficulties and/or poor growth

Come prepared!

Make sure you have a copy of your baby’s recent symptoms and family allergy history to hand

Diagnostic tests for CMA

If the healthcare professional thinks that CMA is a likely cause of your baby’s symptoms, a series of tests can be performed depending on your baby’s clinical history. These include:2,5,6

Elimination diet and food challenge

Cow’s milk protein is removed from your baby’s diet for 2 to 4 weeks. It is then reintroduced to see if symptoms reappear

Blood test

If immediate (IgE-mediated) CMA is suspected, a blood test will be carried out. This is to look for a specific IgE antibody. The other way is a skin prick test

Skin prick test

Skin prick testing is one of the most common allergy tests. A small amount of cow’s milk will be placed on the skin and a scratch will be made through the droplet

Confirming suspected IgE-mediated CMA

A blood test or skin prick test will be taken, but if this is inconclusive, a supervised food challenge may be required.2,7

Confirming suspected non-IgE-mediated CMA

Usually just elimination and reintroduction of cow’s milk protein from your baby’s diet. The first choice is to exclusively breastfeed and remove cow’s milk from the mother’s diet if required, but if this is not possible, your healthcare professional will prescribe a special formula to provide your baby with essential nutrition.2,7

Find out more about the next stage in the process

CMA: cow’s milk allergy. GP: general practitioner; IgE: immunoglobulin E.

UK-SIMILAC-2000018 November 2020