The FDA issued new rules in 2006 that require manufacturers to identify all major food allergens that may be used in a product. Milk allergy patients must also be aware of cross-contamination, in which milk proteins are transferred by contact to another, normally harmless product (such as hamburger served on a platter that previously held cheeseburgers).
Health experts say many children outgrow a milk allergy by the time they reach six. However, Robert Wood, M.D., at Pediatric Allergist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center says recent surveys suggest milk allergies are persisting for longer periods of time. In the past, he says, about three-fourths of children would outgrow a milk allergy by three or four. Today, only about 20 percent of three- to four-years old with a milk allergy have outgrown the problem. In fact, more than half of affected children still have signs of milk allergy at 11 or 12.
People with respiratory allergies can often reduce their symptoms through desensitization therapy, or allergy shots. But injections don’t work for food allergies. Instead, Wood attempts desensitization through the oral route. The desensitization process must be done very gradually to reduce the risk of a serious reaction. At first, a patient is given a minute amount of the offending food. At home, a parent continues to give the child that “safe” amount every day for two weeks. When the child comes into the office again, the amount of food is slightly increased. That’s followed by another two weeks of exposure to the same dose of food at home. The cycle continues with gradual increases in food amounts.
At the end of six months, the food is given in a trial offering to see how much the child can tolerate. Desensitization treatment can be very effective. Woods says some children who couldn’t tolerate a few drops of milk are now able to drink up to 16 ounces. He warns desensitization must be done under the supervision of a physician because children can develop a severe, life-threatening reaction at any time during the treatment.