Managing Life With Milk and Egg Allergies

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in Food Allergy, Milk & Egg, Newly Diagnosed
Published: August 23, 2010

milk allergy

Milk and egg allergies primarily affect children. Since children usually become allergic to milk and egg as infants or toddlers, there are extra precautions that need to be taken simply due to the age of the child. Very young children do tend to put everything within reach in their mouthes, including their own hands.

This can present a challenge to parents who need to place a child in a daycare. While most licenced daycare centers are today well-versed in allergy issues (particularly peanut allergy), not all will be free of hard-to-avoid allergens such as milk and egg.

Before completing enrollment, make an appointment to review allergy practices of the daycare where you’re applying. Questions include:
• Can snacks be dairy-free or largely dairy-free (e.g. there are many brands of dairy-free crackers used as snacks)?
• What are the hand-washing practices following snacks and meals?
• What is the protocol for wiping down toys which are shared and could get smeared with, say, cheese residue?

Baked Goods Findings

Milk and egg are among the more challenging allergies to learn to manage – because both are used extensively in packaged food and bakery items. But good news: research shows many allergic children are able to tolerate foods containing either milk or egg: as long as they have been cooked thoroughly at a temperature of 350 degrees F or higher. The amount of the allergen also is important.

Speak to your allergist about whether your child is a candidate for trying a baked goods challenge (never just try this without the specialist consultation). Research at Johns Hopkins University has shown that many children tolerating thoroughly baked milk or egg can even progress to foods that are less extensively baked, such as pizza. For more, see Milk, Egg Allergy Breakthrough.

Managing Tips

Infant Challenges

Since milk and egg allergies tend to appear in children before they reach the age of 3, this presents a challenge to the child’s parents. Many babies who become allergic to dairy have to switch to an extensively hydrolyzed formula that is considered “hypoallergenic” for those who react to cow’s milk.

International recommendations advise that soy formula not be given to infants under six months of age with cow’s milk allergy. For more on formulas to use with a child with milk allergy, see the advice of Dr. Hemant Sharma here.

Pay attention to breastfeeding with an infant with either milk or egg allergies as cow’s milk protein can pass through in breast milk  and the same may happen with egg protein. But this doesn’t always happen and before you eliminate either one from your diet, speak to your doctor about your infant’s allergy. An allergist or pediatrician may refer you to a dietitian who specializes in allergies.

Hand-Washing: When your child (or you) has a milk or egg allergy, soap and water are your best friends. Hands should be washed thoroughly before and after eating. If you have a school-aged child, ensure he (or she) is able to wash his hands before snacks and lunch. With younger children, schools usually adopt an allergy protocol of washing hands among all children after eating.

Bring wipes with you at all times: they’re great for cleaning hands in a pinch, as well as wiping downs trays, tables and chairs when eating outside of your home.  

Cross-Contact: It’s important to make sure milk or eggs or products that contain them don’t come in contact with the food the allergic person is eating. That means thoroughly cleaning utensils and kitchen equipment after use. For example, if someone makes a sandwich with egg-containing mayonnaise or a dairy-containing margarine, be sure to clean the cutting board thoroughly with soap and water before using it to make the “allergy safe” sandwich.

Label reading: The good news is that U.S. law requires the Top 8 food triggers (in Canada, it’s the Top 11) to be labeled in plain English. For more information on what you need to know when reading product labels, see “How to Read a Label with Food Allergies.”

However labels are not always as clear as they’re meant to be, and whenever you eat a packaged food, you need to read the label in its entirety to check for any mention of milk or egg. Sometimes, they can have different names or can be hidden as an ingredient of an ingredient within a manufactured food.

You also have to look for precautionary warning statements on package labels, such as “May Contain Milk (sometimes “Dairy”),” or  “May Contain Eggs.” These statements about foods that are not intentional ingredients are voluntary, so not all manufacturers include them.

In case of doubt: Contact the food manufacturer to find out whether there’s a risk of cross-contact with the allergen. If it’s an imported food and you cannot contact, always use the “when in doubt, go without” rule.

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