Experts have advised that thousands of infants are incorrectly diagnosed as having milk allergy due to a perfect storm’ of flawed GP guidance combined with parents’ growing paranoia over food allergies.

According to researchers, up to 74% of all diagnoses for milk allergy could have been wrong.

The study, which involved 1,300 babies, noted that the diagnosis guidelines used by doctors mistook common problems in childhood for milk allergies – such as excessive crying, regurgitating milk and loose stools.

This, combined with parents’ increasing concern about the health of dietary staples like bread and milk has created a massive overdiagnosis.

Dr Robert Boyle is a consultant allergist at Imperial College London’s National Heart and Lung Institute. He says that parents are more conscious of their food intolerances and allergies in recent years.

“This makes it appear that the cases are going up, but they’re not.”

Thousands of babies are being wrongly diagnosed with milk allergy because of a 'perfect storm' of flawed GP guidance and parents' increasing paranoia about food allergies, experts have warned (stock photo)

Experts warn that thousands of children are wrongly being diagnosed with milk allergies due to a ‘perfect storm’ of poor GP guidance, and increased paranoia by parents about food allergy.

Research published last year suggested the number of cases of the most severe allergic reactions to food – the potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis – rose seven-fold between 1992 and 2012.

Commentators expressed concern over the rise in allergies in British children. Some of the nation’s most respected allergy specialists say it is far away from reality.

Most of the cases which led to hospitalizations were likely for milder reactions.

Dr Boyle states that anaphylaxis is not a simple condition. It is understandable that parents may be more likely to go to the hospital and call for an ambulance.

Although this gives the appearance that cases are on the rise, they aren’t. 

“Data has shown that the number of people who have been diagnosed with life-threatening anaphylaxis and are now coming to the hospital is on the rise for over 30 years. There is not enough evidence to prove that this increase is caused by food allergies.

Dr Boyle points out that if allergies were soaring as much as hospital episodes suggest, there should also be a corresponding increase in deaths – even allowing for improvements in treatment and a rise in prescriptions of EpiPens and other adrenaline auto-injectors to tackle serious allergic reactions.

However, Dr Boyle’s 2020 analysis with Imperial researchers showed that deaths have actually decreased over the last 20 years. Deaths from cow’s-milk allergy did rise slightly in that period, but the numbers were still very small – just 17.

It is possible for testing to overestimate the severity of the problem. Dr Boyle says ‘challenge’ tests – where suspected allergies are measured by exposing the skin to tiny amounts of the harmful protein to see if it reacts – may come up positive but that does not mean a patient will react.

Dr Robert Boyle, consultant allergy specialist at Imperial College London's National Heart and Lung Institute, said: 'Data shows the numbers of people coming to hospital and being labelled having life-threatening anaphylaxis has been steadily going up for the past 30 years. But there is no good evidence this is due to a genuine increase in food allergies'

Dr Robert Boyle, consultant allergy specialist at Imperial College London’s National Heart and Lung Institute, said: ‘Data shows the numbers of people coming to hospital and being labelled having life-threatening anaphylaxis has been steadily going up for the past 30 years. There is not enough evidence to prove that food allergies have increased.

He says, “Not everybody with an allergy test positive reacts to foods that they have been tested for.”

Experts fear this over-diagnosis is prompting mothers to abandon breastfeeding and needlessly turn to the NHS for prescriptions of specialist formula milk, which costs about £60 million a year – almost twice what it was eight years ago.

Experts say prescriptions started to rise after the Milk Allergy In Primary Care guidance guidelines was published by the government in 2013.

The allergy epidemic is simply false 

After concerns that the guidelines of NHS watchdog, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was not providing enough information on allergies, they were revised in 2017. Experts now say that they are inappropriate.

Adnan Custovic from Imperial, Professor of Paediatric Allergy, says, “You can end up with completely normal babies being potentially labeled as allergic to milk.”

“It would surprise me if most babies who are described as suffering from mild or moderate symptoms of milk allergy would receive a clinical diagnosis of milk allergy.”

The latest research was conducted by Dr Michael Perkin at St George’s Hospital in London. He is a consultant on paediatric allergies.

It is possible to cause damage by incorrectly attributing symptoms of cow’s-milk allergies.

The main concern of experts is the effect that fears about milk allergy has upon mothers’ breastfeeding habits – as many are worried that the cow’s milk they drink will transfer to the baby via breastmilk, so switch to special formula.

Breastfeeding is considered the best method of feeding babies. There are fewer chances for infection and breast milk contains more hormones to promote development. The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world. Three out of four mothers abandon it within a matter of months.

Only seven percent of infants under the age of one are affected by milk allergies, according to NHS statistics. The stomach enzymes that digest milk proteins in their bodies develop and most people get rid of the allergy by age five. However, other research suggests that this rate may be even lower than one percent.

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For almost 50 years, doctors were dumbfounded by a painful eye condition that occurs only at Christmas in the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Sufferers of Christmas eye – or seasonal corneal ulcer – experience terrible pain that can last for days, usually after an outdoor activity.

But recently the culprit was finally found: a tiny beetle called orthoperus, pictured above, which is active in that part of Australia in December – the height of summer.

It excretes a chemical, and once it gets on people’s hands, while gardening, for example, it can get into their eyes. Eye drops are used to treat it. 

Two types of allergies exist. The immediate allergy causes symptoms like a rash and swelling of the lips, severe vomiting, or severe swollenness. However, delayed allergies can last for weeks, months, or even years.

Rarely, and in severe cases, an allergic reaction may cause an extreme, fatal over-reaction by the immune system. It is known as Anaphylaxis.

Infants who start to drink standard milk formula or eat solids containing cow’s milk are most likely to develop an allergy.

In the majority of cases, a GP diagnoses milk allergy using the Milk Allergy In Primary Care guidelines and then prescribes specialist formula for a ‘trial-and-error’ solution.

They are advised to seek treatment if symptoms persist. Experts say that this is rare and the parents frequently use the formula for life.

Although blood tests can be used to identify harmful proteins produced by an allergy to food, they are not reliable for milk allergies.

A referral to a specialist often is not necessary. GPs make diagnoses and do not need further testing.

Scientists at Imperial College London, Bristol University, and Imperial College London became concerned after they noticed an increase in babies with milk allergy.

The researchers looked at the likelihood that more than 1000 healthy infants would be diagnosed with an allergy to cow’s milk according to the Milk Allergy In Primary Care Guidelines used by GPs.

Babies were exclusively fed breastmilk and had very little to no contact with cow milk.

The results, published in Clinical And Experimental Allergy, showed that at three months, 38 per cent of them displayed enough symptoms – which are in fact normal in healthy babies – to be classed by GPs using the guidance as having an allergy. A remarkable 74% of them had enough allergies to qualify for being labeled allergic by the time they were one-year old.

An earlier 2020 study on false milk-allergy diagnoses, by a separate team at Imperial College, revealed 14 per cent of parents feared their child had a milk allergy – when only one per cent did.

Nine sets of international guidelines were examined by researchers. They encouraged doctors to overdiagnose, referring to symptoms often unrelated to milk allergy.

Seven advised mothers who are breastfeeding to discontinue dairy products if they suspect their child of being allergic to milk.

Experts claim that the current situation is made worse by fears of intolerances. These are triggered by false nutrition advice, which circulates via social media linking common health problems to wheat and milk.

It is far less common to have intolerances than allergies and they do not cause complications.

What is the difference between cataracts and glaucoma?

Glaucoma refers to an eye condition that is caused by nerve damage connecting the eye and the brain.

It is often caused by fluid buildup at the front of your eye, which increases the pressure inside. This happens most commonly to the 70s.

Blindness can result if it’s not treated quickly. While eye drops and laser treatment can prevent the condition from worsening, it cannot be reversed.

When the lenses inside your eye become cloudy, this is called a cataract. They can eventually lead to blurred, cloudy, or even blind vision.

A surgeon can remove the eye and replace it with a new one. It is a great way to restore vision.

These are more frequent in adults and can cause bloating, stomach upset, or pain.

A series of 2013 studies showed that people with no allergies to food can expect to experience symptoms after eating certain foods.

Dr Boyle states that we live in an era where food intolerances and allergies are becoming more common.

“But we don’t believe that the world is in the grips of a food allergy epidemic.”

Olimpia Nero, a data scientist from London, was diagnosed – incorrectly – with an allergy to milk, egg and gluten when she was just 18 months old.

Olimpia was taken to the doctor when she was a newborn after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea.

The doctor confirmed that Olimpia had allergies to dairy, egg, and gluten. He then referred her to a gastroenterologist.

Olimpia received milk in error a few weeks later. However, she did not experience any reactions. Her mother was beginning to doubt the diagnosis.

Further tests picked up proteins in her blood indicating coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition that means the body over-reacts to gluten.

Olimpia explains, “The theory is that my immune systems went into overdrive when I was fed gluten as a baby. This meant I reacted negatively to other foods.”

“But, once I eliminated gluten from my diet and was able to tolerate all things very well,”

Today, she is ‘fine’ with dairy – in moderation.

It makes me feel slightly bloated. It’s not a problem compared to the problems I have with gluten. It was difficult growing up. My friends didn’t know what I wanted so I ate apples all my life.

“Now, I spend most of my time with friends worrying whether I will get sick.”