What Are the Symptoms of a Milk Allergy in a Toddler?

Many toddlers--children ages 1 to 3 years old--can drink cow’s milk without any problem. However, milk is one of the most common allergens for young children, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, or AAAAI. Furthermore, about 15 percent of milk-allergic children will not outgrow the allergy by age 5. Alternatives like goat’s or sheep’s milk are poor substitutes for cow's milk, because milk-allergic children will likely react to these as well. Toddlers may experience milk allergy symptoms by drinking, touching or simply breathing in milk or milk products. It is important to be aware of the symptoms, as they may occur within minutes up to several hours after exposure to milk, and persist for several days.

Immediate Symptoms

A toddler who has a milk allergy may experience a variety of immediate symptoms minutes and up to one hour after drinking milk or eating milk products. Symptoms may include hives, swelling, dry cough, vomiting and wheezing, according to Dr. Carlo Caffarelli in the January 2010 issue of the “Italian Journal of Pediatrics.” Hives are red, itchy, raised bumps that appear anywhere on the skin, and may go away on their own a few hours later. Swelling that occurs on the lips, eyelids, hands and feet, or other parts of the body, may be uncomfortable but not painful.


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Anaphylaxis is a potentially deadly allergic reaction that occurs within minutes to a few hours after exposure to milk. Anaphylaxis affects several areas of the body and may be a combination of mild to severe symptoms. The toddler with a milk allergy may experience shortness of breath, throat tightness, trouble swallowing, stuffy nose, and severe swelling of the throat and tongue that obstructs breathing. Other symptoms may include projectile vomiting, acute diarrhea, shock or loss of consciousness. According to the AAAAI, some parents may not realize their toddler has a milk allergy until he experiences anaphylaxis. Even small amounts of milk can cause a flare-up. Anaphylaxis can be fatal, so it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

Late Reactions

A toddler with a milk allergy may also experience symptoms that persist for several days after exposure to milk. Symptoms may include runny nose, watery eyes, persistent coughing or wheezing, or itchy rashes around the mouth that spread to other parts of the body. The toddler may also refuse to eat, complain of stomach pain, and have chronic vomiting, chronic diarrhea, or loose, blood-tinted stools, notes Dr. Caffarelli. Parents who suspect that their toddler was exposed to milk or has a milk allergy may wish to consult a specialist for allergy testing.