The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Milk Allergy & Intolerance

Cow's milk allergy occurs when the body demonstrates an abnormal response to the proteins in cow's milk. This allergy is particularly prominent in infants and young children. Cow's milk allergies can either be IgE Mediated or Non-IgE Mediated. The meaning of each of these will be listed below.

IgE Mediated Cow's Milk Protein Allergy

If your child suffers from this type of allergy to cow's milk, they will display immediate symptoms which range from mild/moderate (swelling of lips/eyes, nettle sting rash, vomiting) to severe/anaphylactic (difficulty breathing, speaking, swallowing, floppiness, collapse). Such symptoms tend to occur immediately after consuming milk, or within one to two hours of consumption. For more information on types of immediate allergic reaction, please click here.

If your child has this type of allergy, we advise strict avoidance of all milk and dairy products unless told otherwise by your doctor. All food labels in the UK clearly highlight whether milk is an ingredient.

Non IgE Mediated Cow's Milk Protein Allergy

This type of allergy consists of symptoms which are more delayed in onset. By this we mean symptoms which occur within 24-48 hours of milk consumption. Such symptoms can include a flare up of eczema, or diarrhoea/vomiting.

Treatment for this type of allergy can involve exclusion diets, although we advise seeking advice from your GP or Health Visitor. If your GP feels your child needs further input, they may be referred to the children's allergy service.

If your child is trialling re-introduction of milk through the milk ladder, and you require a new copy, please click here. For recipes linked to the milk ladder, please click here. Please only use this tool under supervision of a health care professional.

The Facts About Milk Allergy:

  •  People commonly get milk allergy and lactose intolerance confused. Lactose intolerance is the body's intolerance to the sugar lactose within cow's milk, whereas a cow's milk allergy is an allergy or intolerance to the proteins within cow's milk. Lactose intolerance only can only cause delayed symptoms, whereas cow's milk allergy can cause either immediate and/or delayed symptoms. For more information on lactose intolerance, please click here, or seek advice from your GP.
  • We expect that most children with a non IgE-mediated allergy to cow's milk will outgrow this by secondary school age.
  • If your baby is breastfed and cow's milk allergic/intolerant, it is important that the mother follows a strict dairy free diet, as the proteins can pass through into breast milk.

Further Information

For further information, please see the below Allergy UK factsheets

Does my child have a milk allergy?

Cow's milk free diet

Cow's milk allergy factsheet

If you think your child is displaying any of the symptoms listed on this page, please seek advice from your GP or health visitor. If required, a referral to the children's allergy service can be made by your GP.