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How a severe milk allergy left baby Arthur screaming in agony with blistered skin


A severe milk allergy left a baby screaming in agony with eczema covering 98 per cent of his body.

Charlotte Smallwood, 25, from Romford in Essex, revealed doctors refused to diagnose a cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) and instead offered her son Arthur treatments for colic and acid reflux.

It took seven months after Arthur’s birth in April 2020 for specialists to see Mrs Smallwood so Arthur could be diagnosed and given a treatment that worked.

From the day after his birth Arthur started to experience symptoms. His face was patchy and swollen, but doctors reportedly dismissed it as baby acne and swelling due to being born by cesarean.

Charlotte Smallwood said doctors refused to diagnose a cow's milk protein allergy (CMPA) and instead offered her son Arthur treatments for colic

It took seven months after Arthur's birth in April 2020 for specialists to see Mrs Smallwood so Arthur could be diagnosed and given a treatment that worked

Charlotte Smallwood, 25, from Romford in Essex, revealed doctors refused to diagnose a cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) and instead offered her son Arthur treatments for colic 

She tried over the counter colic and reflux medicines but nothing helped the baby, who was 'constantly upset' and barely sleeping. Pictured, Arthur's sister Thea helps apply cream when he was six months old

She tried over the counter colic and reflux medicines but nothing helped the baby, who was ‘constantly upset’ and barely sleeping. Pictured, Arthur’s sister Thea helps apply cream when he was six months old

But when Arthur was taken home and started having infant formula, he began suffering episodes of screaming after eating, vomiting up the formula and arching his back in pain.

Mrs Smallwood said the GP advised it was reflux and colic, but her first child with husband Lewis, 28, three-year-old Thea, had suffered from both those conditions – and she believed there was something more to her son’s extreme reactions.

After swapping Arthur’s milk back to pre-made bottles she saw an improvement in his behaviour but the symptoms soon started up again.

She tried over the counter colic and reflux medicines but nothing helped the baby, who was ‘constantly upset’ and barely sleeping.

Arthur was also suffering with severe cradle cap and constipation, and at four weeks old patches of eczema appeared on his cheeks and arms.

Mrs Smallwood (pictured) said the GP advised it was reflux and colic, but her first child with husband Lewis, 28, three-year-old Thea (pictured), had suffered from both those conditions - and she believed there was something more to her son's extreme reactions

Mrs Smallwood (pictured) said the GP advised it was reflux and colic, but her first child with husband Lewis, 28, three-year-old Thea (pictured), had suffered from both those conditions – and she believed there was something more to her son’s extreme reactions

Arthur's skin has cleared up since dermatologists treated him at the age of seven months

Arthur’s skin has cleared up since dermatologists treated him at the age of seven months

Arthur is pictured aged ten months. His skin still occasionally flares up caused by environmental factors such as dust and washing detergents

Arthur is pictured aged ten months. His skin still occasionally flares up caused by environmental factors such as dust and washing detergents

‘From one to four months old, I was back and forth on the phone to the doctor,’ Mrs Smallwood said.

‘He was given antibiotics, mild steroid creams, bath creams and over the counter creams – nothing helped, it just made him worse and worse.

‘Some creams would even make him look as though he had been burned.’

Charlotte believed that the milk was the problem but claims doctors continuously insisted Arthur did not have CMPA, which could explain his sore skin.

CMPA is an abnormal response by the body’s immune system in which proteins in cow’s milk are recognised as a threat. It can cause the immune system to be sensitised and produce allergic symptoms.

Unable to get a face-to-face appointment due to Covid-19 restrictions, Charlotte took Arthur to A&E. Within 10 minutes, he was diagnosed with CMPA and severe infected eczema.

Doctors prescribed Arthur a new formula, stronger steroid creams and bath creams, and within a week his skin started to clear up.

Doctors prescribed Arthur a new formula, stronger steroid creams and bath creams, and within a week his skin started to clear up

Doctors prescribed Arthur a new formula, stronger steroid creams and bath creams, and within a week his skin started to clear up

When Arthur was seen by the specialists, Mrs Smallwood said they were 'shocked' and 'disgusted' by how previous doctors had cared for his skin and couldn't understand how he had been left so long without proper treatment. His skin is now cleared

When Arthur was seen by the specialists, Mrs Smallwood said they were ‘shocked’ and ‘disgusted’ by how previous doctors had cared for his skin and couldn’t understand how he had been left so long without proper treatment. His skin is now cleared

But when Mrs Smallwood tried to wean him off it, the skin issues came back with a vengeance.

She said: ‘The eczema and reactions grew worse and worse, and in the end his skin was reacting to everything that went into or onto his body.

‘His skin and bowels would bear the brunt of his reactions – he would have uncontrollable bowel movements that were like acid water, which left him blistered and raw.

‘It seemed as though whatever had just gone into him was trying to get out via his skin.

‘He couldn’t do anything – he never laughed, couldn’t roll, sit up, play or grab things.’

Mrs Smallwood felt 'overwhelmed' trying to help her son when everything seemed to either have no affect or make him worse

Mrs Smallwood felt ‘overwhelmed’ trying to help her son when everything seemed to either have no affect or make him worse

His dietician pushed for an appointment at Homerton University Hospital in London for allergy tests when he was seven months old

His dietician pushed for an appointment at Homerton University Hospital in London for allergy tests when he was seven months old

Mrs Smallwood felt ‘overwhelmed’ trying to help her son when everything seemed to either have no affect or make him worse.

What is an allergy to cow milk and how do you know if your child has it? 

A cow’s milk allergy is an abnormal response by the body’s immune system in which proteins in food are recognised as a potential threat. 

This can cause the immune system to be ‘sensitised’. When this happens, there is the potential that when cow’s milk is consumed the immune system remembers this protein and may react to it by producing allergic symptoms.

Whilst Cow’s Milk Allergy is one of the most common food allergies to affect babies and young children in the UK it is still rare. It can affect formula fed babies, although very rarely, also breastfed babies. 

Allergic symptoms to CMPA can happen immediately after feeding or they can be delayed. In the case of immediate symptoms such as swelling of the lips or the tongue or breathing difficulties, immediate medical help must be sought. 

Symptoms of CMPA often start in the early weeks and months of life. There are many possible symptoms which may suggest your baby has a Cow’s Milk Allergy. Allergic symptoms can affect one or more of the body’s systems, including the skin, digestive and, less commonly, breathing or blood circulation. Allergic symptoms may be called mild, moderate or severe. However, it is important to note that some of these symptoms, such as reflux, colic and constipation are commonly seen in this young age group.

Source: Allergy UK

She said: ‘The toughest part was watching Arthur scream, cry, scratch, throw himself around and bleed.

‘He would be absolutely uncontrollable and inconsolable.

‘Knowing that there wasn’t anything that I could do to help my child was absolutely heart breaking.

‘The sleep deprivation was something else – I went seven months without sleeping more than three hours of broken sleep a night.

‘Arthur would just scratch, cry and scream all night long. I had to wrap his arm up close to his body just so he would stop scratching for five minutes.

‘His sister would get very upset watching him and it was tough trying to explain things to her.

‘She would give me a cuddle when I would break down in tears, which was a lot.’

In October, Arthur was taken again to A&E after a bad reaction to a teething gel.

His dietician pushed for an appointment at Homerton University Hospital in London for allergy tests when he was seven months old.

The condition of his skin was then too severe for allergy testing as his body was 98 per cent covered in severe eczema.

‘We went home feeling very deflated and wondering how long we would have to wait for someone to see him again,’ Mrs Smallwood said.

‘But I received a phone call the next day from the Homerton children’s dermatology department asking me to take him there that second – we couldn’t believe it.’

When Arthur was seen by the specialists, Mrs Smallwood said they were ‘shocked’ and ‘disgusted’ by how previous doctors had cared for his skin and couldn’t understand how he had been left so long without proper treatment.

His new dermatologist gave him a strict skin routine which should help within one week.

The mother said: ‘At the time, I was very sceptical and didn’t believe them, but he was clear in just 24 hours.

‘By the end of the first week, he was laughing, rolling, sitting up, grabbing things and playing.

‘I could change his nappy on my own without him scratching and he slept through the night for the first time ever.

‘His big sister found it so amazing that she could finally play with her baby brother as she couldn’t touch him before.’

His new dermatologist gave him a strict skin routine which should help within one week. Pictured with his sister Thea after treatment worked

His new dermatologist gave him a strict skin routine which should help within one week. Pictured with his sister Thea after treatment worked

Mrs Smallwood is careful to read food labels to ensure no dairy gets into Arthur's diet, which would cause another devastating flare-up

Mrs Smallwood is careful to read food labels to ensure no dairy gets into Arthur’s diet, which would cause another devastating flare-up

The condition of his skin was so severe at seven months he could not be allergy tested as his body was 98 per cent covered in severe eczema (left). Right, now

The condition of his skin was so severe at seven months he could not be allergy tested as his body was 98 per cent covered in severe eczema (left). Right, now 

Now, Arthur is flourishing and only suffers mild eczema flare-ups occasionally, caused by environmental factors such as dust and washing detergents.

He is still on the special formula but is weaning and ‘loving’ all of his food, having had his allergies retested.

Mrs Smallwood is careful to read food labels to ensure no dairy gets into Arthur’s diet, which would cause another devastating flare-up.

She added: ‘A lot of doctors seem very standoffish when it comes to CMPA, sort of like they don’t believe it’s a real allergy.

‘I have come across many people and children like our family that have gone through the same situation.

‘But do not give up and don’t be scared to go over somebodies head to get to where your child needs to be.

‘Arthur is now a happy, healthy 10-month-old who is thriving – he has come so far.’      

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