TV review: The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs – cows’ milk allergy

According to his diagnosis, Albie is allergic to cows’ milk – but a TV documentary aired last night (Wednesday) had the potential to make us sit up and challenge his label.

An informative BBC series, Dr Chris van Tulleken investigates whether there are alternatives to medications the public is increasingly prescribed.

The latest episode focused on two big issues – antidepressants and a ‘dramatic rise’ in prescriptions to tackle cows’ milk allergy in babies.

The latter was a must-watch for us, though Dr Chris’s hypothesis appeared at odds with our reality.

When you’re down about downing milk you’re probably allergic to, the last thing you need is Daddy making the bottle top into a hat for you…

The programme noted how more and more babies were being treated for the allergy with special – and quite costly – formula milks.

Nutramigen and Neocate were two recognisable makes featured. For most of you, the first might sound made up and the second more like a Crash Bandicoot character than a medication – but for us allergy allies they’re very familiar.

Dr Chris appeared doubtful over how many of those diagnosed with cows’ milk allergy were sufferers. Much was made over the involvement of those making the products in the education of health professionals on the subject. It’s definitely an important point and I was interested to learn more.

But unlike his detailed discussions on antidepressants and alternative natural therapies, the detail on the allergy side in this regard was disappointingly thin.

The main case study was about a family whose baby had been rapidly diagnosed primarily because of eczema.

In contrast, our route to a diagnosis was akin to the drawn-out battle between the living and the dead in Game of Thrones.

Despite the recent blip – see our hospital stay blog – meal times are generally more relaxed affairs since dairy got the chop

Albie always had major reflux symptoms. We spent months trying various different milks, from the over-the-counter brands, including ‘comfort’ and ‘anti-reflux’ models. We tried them mixed with Gaviscon and an expensive additive called Colief which made things worse.

It wasn’t a symptom-free trial and error process. Albie’s meal times went beyond mild reflux: projectile vomiting, extended tummy cramp-like pains and piercing cries, followed by bouts of constipation or diarrhoea depending on the milk. We endured sleepless nights as he was so uncomfy in his crib and couldn’t lie on his back. He spewed almost 24-7, regardless of meal times.

Born four weeks ahead of schedule, he was always going to be on the small side but these sicky symptoms did nothing to help and his growth chart stubbornly lacked much of an upward curve.

It was a battle to get something done. As I recall, it was a health visitor who first suggested the potential for a cows’ milk allergy – but it wasn’t definitive and was based on a range of problems, not just eczema. It was then some weeks until a doctor prescribed an allergy-friendly milk. First came Nutramigen and then Neocate, which he still drinks today.

We have some way to go. His reflux still isn’t totally solved and had begun to worsen again since shortly before his hospital stay last week. He now takes a bumper dose of omeprazole and we use Carobel, a thickener, as the Neocate was so thin. Moving to food is making a difference.

So are we convinced he has a milk allergy? The jury will be out until we solve his reflux. We are confident, though, that his symptoms are massively improved since Neocate was prescribed.

But unless I missed it, I didn’t come away from the programme with a true alternative. The evidence in the programme alone didn’t go far enough to cast doubt that we had a duff diagnosis. If more time had been devoted to the issue, a better case may have been built.

We really hope we can re-introduce milk at some stage, else he’ll never get to try Mini Cheddars, which would be a travesty…




One Comment Add yours

  1. Oli, Have you considered contacting the Doctor, as Journalist and as a Father, there could be a follow up article in Johnson press for him:
    Represented by
    Miranda Chadwick
    Jamie Slattery

    Or at UCHL, where I believe he works. I have a contact at UCHL if you need it, Yen Yee Chen, who goes weekly to treat patients using Oriental techniques with the Hospital’s approval. Terry


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