An egg allergy develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to proteins in the egg whites or yolks. When the eggs are eaten, the body sees the protein as a foreign invader and sends out chemicals to fight it. These chemicals cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Experts estimate that about 2 percent of children are born with an allergy to eggs. However, studies show that about 70 percent of them will outgrow the allergy by age 16 but what is egg allergy and its treatments?
What is Egg Allergy and its Causes?
With repeated exposure to a specific protein, there is a likelier chance that your body will develop a sensitivity to it. Then, once exposed again, symptoms will occur that normally wouldn’t. It isn’t entirely clear what brings on these symptoms other than repeated exposure. In the case of food sensitivities, it is best to avoid developing them by maintaining a balanced diet.
If you are born with an egg allergy, then the symptoms are more severe than an intolerance and more difficult to treat. It is possible that an allergy develops in a newborn that is not breastfed by a mother with a healthy diet.
Studies show that vaginal births and being breastfed are crucial to developing the immune system and for preventing allergies. This is because allergens are introduced to the baby in small amounts and the immune system is allowed to create white blood cells that know how to deal with allergens.
It’s important to note that a baby born with an allergy to eggs will likely experience symptoms if the mother consumes eggs and breastfeeds her baby.(1)
Symptoms of Egg Allergy
The symptoms of an egg allergy are similar to other types of allergies and can include one or more of the following:
- Skin reactions like eczema, hives or swelling
- Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea
- Trouble breathing or wheezing
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Fast heartbeat.
- In rare cases, anaphylactic shock may occur.
Diagnosing an Egg Allergy
If you experience any of those symptoms, you should see an allergist to determine an allergy through a skin-prick test or a blood test.
In the skin-prick test, a small amount of solution with egg protein is pricked into the skin of your forearm. After a few minutes, if reddish spots form then this is an indication of an allegy to egg protein.
In a blood test, a sample is taken to a laboratory to test for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies to egg protein.
If these tests aren’t definitive, your allergist may order an oral food diet. Under supervision you’ll eat small amounts of egg to see if a reaction forms. Because this may be severe, emergency equipment and medication will be on hand. A food elimination diet may also determine if an allergy is present. The symptoms will disappear when eggs are removed from the diet.
Egg Allergy in Children
Allergy to eggs is the most common food allergy in children, but is the most easy to resolve prior to school age. In nearly all cases of infantile eczema, it is due to an allergy to eggs.
The allergy symptoms usually appear within 5 to 15 months and can create topical symptoms like redness of the face hives around the mouth or itchiness. It is interesting that children with an egg allergy tend to have a natural aversion to anything with egg ingredients, even baked goods.
Coming up with recipes without eggs as meals for kids with allergies can be a difficult task. Eggs are almost always found in bread, pasta, cereals, pastries and cakes. Shiny bread products like bagels and pretzels will very likely always contain eggs. Candies, cream fillings, salad dressings and fried materials also contain hidden eggs.
Parents should be wary of macaroni, marshmallows and noodles because they may or may not contain eggs in their ingredients.
Also, any foods with the words “emulsifier,” “binder,” or “coagulant” as well as any other ingredient that begins with the word “ova” on the label, will contain eggs.
Other ingredients to watch out for:
- Albumin(egg protein)
- Artificial or natural flavor
- Egg substitute(often egg whites)
- Silici Albuminate
Non-food products that may contain egg include finger paint, shampoo, certain medicines, make-up and some vaccines. Most flu and yellow fever vaccines will contain eggs
In a cohort study, 213 children with an egg allergy were followed for 74 months. All of these children tested positive in a skin-prick test with egg protein. In the end, the allergy was resolved in 105 of the children following 74 months; this is about half. Factors that were most predictive of resolution included: initial reaction characteristics, baseline egg IgE level, wheal size, dermatitis severity, IgG4 and IL-4 response. Analysis identified baseline egg IgE and initial reaction symptoms as strongly associated with resolution of the allergy.(2)
Egg Allergy in Adults
Egg allergy in adults in very rare and symptoms almost always begin in childhood. Reactions are very rare as well. Even the most allergic adults usually don’t experience anything besides mild nausea or an eczema flare after consuming eggs. However, it is unknown whether permanent damage or inflammation occurs to the body when it consumes an allergen.
Other symptoms in adults may include lip or eyelid swelling, itchy eyes, ears or throat, shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing. These adults, like children, tend to have a natural aversion to foods with egg ingredients.
There are a few commercial egg substitutes on the market that are suitable for baking. Egg replacers typically contain a combination of potato starch, tapioca starch and baking soda. You can create one on your own by mixing 1 tablespoon of water, 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Another alternative is a packet of gelatin dissolves in warm water as well as dissolved yeast.
Management and Treatment of an Egg Allergy
The only way to prevent egg allergy symptoms is to avoid egg products entirely. Some people with egg allergies can tolerate well-cooked eggs and baked goods but not raw or undercooked eggs.
Medications such as antihistamines may reduce signs and symptoms of a mild egg allergy. These over-the-counter drugs can be taken after exposure to eggs to block the symptoms of an allergic reaction. However, they are not effective for preventing inflammation caused by the reaction.
If the allergy is severe enough, you may need to carry around an emergency epinephrine injector(EpiPen) at all times. Anaphylaxis requires an epinephrine shot, a trip to the emergency room and medical observation to be sure that symptoms don’t return. It may be important to learn how to use an EpiPen and to teach your child as well.