Any food allergy can be overwhelming to manage – but there are lots of things that can help. Author Michelle Diana Lowe shares some handy hints with Lisa Salmon.
From sausages to cereals and chocolate to cake, dairy products can crop up in a huge range of food kids tend to love – so for the increasing number of children who are allergic or intolerant to dairy products, avoiding it can seem tricky.
Allergy UK estimates that cows’ milk allergy – which frequently goes undiagnosed, or takes a long time to be identified – affects 3-6% of infants and young children, making it the most common paediatric food allergy. Symptoms can including wheezing, vomiting, hives and digestive problems, which occur minutes to hours after consuming milk, or something containing milk (in very serious, but thankfully rare cases, milk allergy can even cause anaphylaxis).
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system has an abnormal response to a certain trigger (although cows’ milk is often the culprit in dairy allergy, milk from sheep and goats can sometimes cause a reaction too), and is not the same as milk intolerance, known as non-allergic hypersensitivity, which doesn’t involve the immune system. With an intolerance, symptoms tend to include things like bloating, gas or diarrhoea after consuming milk – and they’re often slower to appear, possibly flaring up a number of hours later.
Thankfully, most children outgrow their milk allergy by around age five, but managing it in the meantime can be troublesome. It’s important to remember that dairy products are an important part of children’s diet, providing crucial nutrients including proteins, minerals and vitamins essential for growth, bone and dental health, so if you do think your child needs to avoid it, speak to a doctor about it – they can advise on how to go about managing symptoms, while ensuring your youngster still gets the nutrients they need.
Here, Michelle Diana Lowe – whose new pocket-sized children’s book, Dairy Free and Happy!, is packed with advice on navigating the anxieties and challenges of dairy allergy, shares 10 top tips for helping children cope with the condition…
1. Eat healthy
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables at home and school, and have a healthy, balanced diet. If you need support with this, ask your mum or dad to take you to see your GP to get a referred to a dietitian.
2. Be positive
Focus on the food you can eat, rather than what you can’t eat. “Be positive and remember that food is your friend and not your foe,” stresses Lowe.
3. Talk and hug
Ask mum or dad for a snug hug when you need to be comforted. This will help you feel happier. Talking to your parents about how you feel helps too – it’s much better to speak about your feelings than to bottle them up.
4. Plan for parties
If you’re invited to a friend’s party, ask your parents to speak to the other child’s parent well in advance so they can provide dairy-free foods on the day. This will enable you to feel part of the celebrations. If you don’t know the party organiser, take your own food, to avoid potential problems.
5. Dairy-free sun protection
Even sun lotion can contain dairy ingredients, which can cause hives or rashes in those allergic to dairy. So, in the summer or on holiday, make sure you read sun cream labels and only apply sun cream that contains no dairy products.
6. Keep hydrated
Drink plenty of water, it can help flush your system and support the elimination of the allergens your body reacts to.
7. Read labels
Read food, drink and skin product labels carefully. Anything with lactose, milk proteins, casein or any other dairy product isn’t suitable for you. If in doubt, ask your parents or shop staff.
8. Have fun
Play games, laugh, and have fun. Enjoy spending quality time with your family. Plan days out and have special family time. It will help you feel better if your dairy allergy has been making you miserable.
9. Tell the teacher
Tell your teacher about your dairy allergy, as it’s important they know your dietary needs. Also, inform the teacher of any medication you need, and take medication to school if necessary.
10. Know your numbers
Make sure you and your family know the contact numbers for the emergency services in case you need immediate medical help – whichever country you’re in.
Dairy Free And Happy! by Michelle Diana Lowe, £5.99, is available now.