Report released by national GP magazine reveals 1,000 children in England and Wales suffer from ‘non-specific milk allergy’
Thousands of infants are wrongly diagnosed with milk allergies, a new report has revealed.
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The three-year study, which will be published by National Patient Safety Agency, said “non-specific milk allergy” is failing to be diagnosed in young children.
A third of those found to have the condition do not experience any symptoms, which is why the survey found 6,000 preschoolers were in real danger of having a life-threatening reaction.
People suffer from a milk allergy when the body reacts to the protein in milk and so cannot absorb the nutrients it contains. If uncontrolled, the condition can provoke anaphylactic shock.
Following a study in the journal BMJ Open last year, scientists urged doctors to identify children at a risk of having anaphylactic shock and find ways to make it less likely.
But the independent investigation carried out by the National Patient Safety Agency found the majority of those suffering a milk allergy either do not experience any symptoms or also have no diagnosis and no recourse for treatment.
Researchers looked at records of 2,000 children who were not diagnosed with a milk allergy. Of those, 1,000 were found to have the condition.
Only 35 children were correctly diagnosed, most of whom were known to be suffering from a “relatively mild” reaction, while 522 children did not have any documented sign of a milk allergy.
The researchers also looked at the children’s symptoms and how they responded to peanut protein for the first time in 2016-17. They found those diagnosed with a milk allergy developed the most severe reaction, which could lead to anaphylactic shock and lead to death.
From 2012-13, there were at least 300,000 children admitted to hospital on anaphylactic-shock occasions.
Dr Charlotte High, from the NHS company Innovate UK, which provides research to patients, said: “The risk of getting anaphylactic shock from milk is low. This was overwhelmingly put down to a lactose intolerance.
“But a lot of patients do present in the early stages and of those some develop a diagnosis. These children are at risk and as a result need to be found, followed up and treated.”
High said anaphylaxis could have many causes, including skin reactions or anaphylaxis triggered by a pet. But a milk allergy could also mean an allergy was developing, he said.
Around 600,000 adults in the UK have a milk allergy, and the allergy is estimated to be responsible for 25,000 early deaths a year.
Researchers believe they can help monitor the condition after the paper is published by improving referral lines to medics who can advise whether a patient is right to continue or stop treatment.
Milk allergy tests take four to five weeks to complete but the next step would be to work on the complex detection processes as they develop.
Dr Fiona Tomlinson, GP at the North County GP Group, said: “Milk allergy is a problem that can bring about all kinds of difficulties.
“Lack of well-trained staff means that many parents of these children may not be given much information or advice about how best to deal with the symptoms, so a lot of these children are putting their own and their families’ lives at risk.
“Recommendations will help to improve diagnosis and enable families to seek better support, but even with better advice and guidance there may not be a way to give appropriate diagnosis at a stage when such a diagnosis may be most valuable to a child,” she said.