Clinical & Experimental Allergy

Diagnostic value of skin-prick and patch tests and serum eosinophil cationic protein and cow's milk-specific IgE in infants with cow's milk allergy


Kristiina M. Saarinen, Hospital for Children and Adolescents, University of Helsinki, PO Box 280, Lastenlinnantie 11 C 29, FIN-00029 HYKS, Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:


The diagnosis of cow's milk allergy is based on a clinical response to an elimination-challenge test with cow's milk.

We studied the usefulness of the skin-prick and patch tests and measurement of cow's milk-specific IgE and eosinophil cationic protein in serum as diagnostic tools for cow's milk allergy in a cohort of 6209 unselected infants followed from birth for the development of cow's milk allergy.

Of the 239 infants challenged with cow's milk, 118 showed a positive and 121 a negative response at a mean age of 6.9 months. A positive reaction to a skin-prick test with cow's milk (geqslant R: gt-or-equal, slanted 3 mm) was seen in 72 (61%) and 29 (24%) infants with positive and negative challenges, elevated serum cow's milk-specific IgE (geqslant R: gt-or-equal, slanted 0.7 kU/L) in 52 (45%) and 15 (13%) infants, a positive reaction to patch test with cow's milk protein fractions in 26 (26%) and eight (8%) infants, and elevated serum eosinophil cationic protein (geqslant R: gt-or-equal, slanted 20 μg/L) in 22 (21%) and seven (13%) infants, respectively. Parallel use of the four tests with the above-mentioned cut-off values correctly classified 73% of the infants with a sensitivity of 0.76 and a specificity of 0.67. An immediate reaction to cow's milk challenge correlated with skin prick test positivity and elevated serum milk-specific IgE, and tended to correlate with patch test positivity.

No single test or parallel use of the four tests could predict the challenge outcome acceptably in this prospectively followed, unselected cohort of 6209 infants. A positive reaction to one or more tests needs to be confirmed by a challenge test and a negative response to all four tests does not rule out the possibility of cow's milk allergy.