The consumption of a food ingredient in milk products called galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) could cause allergic reactions in individuals who already have allergies such as eczema or asthma.
In a press release on Tuesday (Jul 12), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said about two cases of GOS allergies have been reported on average each year in Singapore since 2007.
All the cases have a history of atopy or allergic conditions such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), allergic rhinitis or asthma and were found to be sensitised to house dust mites. To date, there have been no reported cases of infants below the age of two who have been allergic to GOS, the authorities said.
According to MOH and AVA, GOS allergy symptoms can show up in the respiratory system, skin or in the stomach and intestines. The symptoms are sneezing, runny nose/ blocked nose, cough, throat and chest tightness, wheezing, hives and itch - including itchy eyes - and diarrhoea.
An allergic reaction to GOS could take from minutes to hours within ingestion for symptoms to appear, they added.
GOS is a carbohydrate added in foods to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. The findings are from an ongoing local study from August 2013, which estimated that the prevalence of GOS allergy may be up to 3.5 per cent of individuals who have a history of allergies, aged five to 60. The research study will be completed in 2017.
GOS is a permitted food ingredient in many countries and can be added to any foods including infant formula.
MOH and AVA added that healthy individuals with no history of allergy “are not likely” to develop allergic reactions due to the consumption of GOS. Individuals who had previously consumed or who are currently consuming GOS products with no allergic reactions are also “highly unlikely” to have GOS allergy.
“Our local clinicians are conducting further studies to better understand the mechanism of the GOS in triggering the allergic reactions,” the authorities said. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Consumers who encounter an allergic reaction are advised to seek medical attention. If a severe reaction is experienced, they should seek immediate medical treatment at the nearest hospital, said MOH and AVA.