Natural history of cows' milk allergy in children: immunological outcome over 2 years


Dr D. J. Hill, Department of Allergy, Royal Children's Hospital, Flemington Rd, Parkville 3052, Australia.


In this investigation 98 children (median age 24 months) with cows' milk allergy (CMA) were studied over a median period of 2 years to see whether acquisition of clinical tolerance to cows' milk was associated with the changes in levels of IgG and IgE anti-cows' milk antibodies, and skin test reactivity to a cows' milk extract. Two groups of CMA patients were examined. The first were IgE sensitized and responded rapidly to small volumes of cows' milk with urticaria, and/or exacerbations of eczema, and/or wheeze, and/or vomiting (n= 69). The second, a late reacting group (n= 29) demonstrated coughing, diarrhoea, eczematoid rashes, and/or a combination of these which developed more than 20 hr after commencing normal volumes of cows' milk. Significant immunological changes were confined to the 69 IgE sensitized immediate-reacting-group of patients. Of these, there were 15 children who achieved clinical tolerance to cows' milk and they showed a significant fall in the levels of skin test reactivity to cows' milk over the study period (P <0.01). In addition, these 15 children had lower serum IgE antibodies to cows' milk proteins both at the outset and the final follow-up compared with the 54 patients whose CMA persisted. No consistent change in the IgG antibody responses to cows' milk proteins was seen in either group of patients over the study period. The findings suggest patients with immediate type hypersensitivity to cows' milk proteins whose disease persists for more than 2 years have a more severe dysregulation of IgE synthesis to cows' milk proteins from the outset. The role of humoral immune mechanisms in the pathogenesis of late reacting CMA remains unclear.