26. April 2021
More severe cow’s milk allergies in the UK

The number of deaths from a severe allergic reaction has halved in the last 20 years in the UK. With one exception: cow’s milk allergies in children.

What was the study about?

The research team wanted to know whether there was an increase in hospital stays due to a severe food allergy (anaphylaxis) between 1998 and 2018.
The data are from the UK, where a register is kept with data on all deaths from anaphylaxis.


According to the researchers, food allergies are a major concern among the public and in the media. However, discussions often refer to isolated cases. In addition, the data are not always explained in a scientifically precise manner.
The team wanted to make a scientifically accurate statement.


What’s new?

  • Hospital treatments due to a severe food allergy have actually increased significantly in the UK over the past 20 years.
  • Between 1998 and 2018, nearly 102,000 people were hospitalised for anaphylaxis, 30,700 of them for food allergy (30.1%).
  • There was a year on year increase in hospital visits due to a food allergy: The figure was 1.23 people per 100,000 inhabitants per year in 199. In 2018, it was 4.04 per 100,000 inhabitants per year.
    This means that the rate increase by 5.7 per cent every year.
  • But deaths from food allergies, which are already rare, have fallen significantly, from 0.7% to 0.19%.
  • Between 1998 and 2018, 66 school age children of died of anaphylaxis.
    The most common trigger was cow’s milk – this was the cause of allergy in 17 of these children (26%).


Why is this important?

Although more and more people in the UK are admitted to hospital with food-induced anaphylaxis, the number of people who die from it is declining.

One reason could be that more and more people carry an autoinjector – the number of prescriptions for autoinjectors has more than tripled.


The study is particularly important for children with cow’s milk allergy that persists after infancy. Even though deaths are rare overall, they occurred relatively often in school children with cow’s milk allergy


How did the researchers find out?

British researchers analysed data from the UK Fatal Anaphylaxis Registry. Since its founding in 1992, all deaths from anaphylaxis have been recorded in this database.

It is very rare for someone to die from a severe allergic reaction to food: only 187 such deaths have been reported in the UK since 1992. Nearly half of the deaths (86 out of 187 total) were due to peanuts or tree nuts such as almonds, cashews or walnuts.


What happens now?

The research team is calling for an increase in awareness that allergies triggered by cow’s milk can have severe consequences in children. While children and their families need to be informed, so do food manufacturers.


The scientists are also appealing for more studies to find out which children are at the greatest risk. These children must be quickly identified in order to reduce their risk of severe reactions.



Original study:

Baseggio Conrado A et al.: Food anaphylaxis in the United Kingdom: analysis of national data, 1998-2018. BMJ 2021;372:n251



Additional sources

BMJ Media Relations. UK hospital admissions for food-induced anaphylaxis triple over 20 year period but death rate falls. Press release of the British Medical Journal dated 17 February 2021. Last retrieved on 10 March 2021