Egg Allergy – Symptoms and Causes
Eggs are one of the most common food allergens in children.
Egg allergy symptoms usually occur within minutes to hours after eating eggs or foods containing eggs. Signs and symptoms range from mild to severe and may include rash, hives, nasal congestion and vomiting or other digestive issues. Rarely, egg allergy can cause anaphylaxis – a life-threatening reaction.
Egg allergy can occur in early childhood. Most, but not all, children overcome their egg allergy before adolescence.
Allergic reactions to eggs vary from person to person and usually occur shortly after exposure to eggs. Egg allergy symptoms can include:
- Skin inflammation or hives – the most common allergic reaction to eggs
- Nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing (allergic rhinitis)
- Digestive symptoms, such as cramps, nausea, and vomiting
- Signs and symptoms of asthma such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath
A severe allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening emergency that requires an immediate injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) and a visit to the emergency room. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Constriction of the airways, including a swollen throat or a lump in the throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- fast pulse
- Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure felt as dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness
Talk to your doctor about any reaction, however mild, you or your child has to eggs. The severity of egg allergic reactions can vary each time a reaction occurs, so even if a past reaction was mild, the next could be more severe.
If your doctor thinks you or your child might be at risk of a serious reaction, they may prescribe an emergency epinephrine injection for use in case of anaphylaxis. The vaccine comes in a device that makes it easy to administer, called an auto-injector.
When to consult a doctor
See a doctor if you or your child has any signs or symptoms of a food allergy shortly after eating eggs or any product containing eggs. If possible, consult the doctor when the allergic reaction occurs. This can help establish a diagnosis.
If you or your child have signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency treatment immediately and use an auto-injector if prescribed.
An overreaction of the immune system causes food allergies. For egg allergy, the immune system mistakenly identifies certain egg proteins as harmful. When you or your child come into contact with egg proteins, immune system cells (antibodies) recognize them and signal the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals that cause allergic signs and symptoms .
Both egg yolks and egg whites contain proteins that can cause allergies, but egg white allergy is the most common. Breastfed infants may have an allergic reaction to egg protein in breast milk if the mother consumes eggs.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing an egg allergy:
- Atopic dermatitis. Children with this type of skin reaction are much more likely to develop a food allergy than children who do not have skin problems.
- Family history. You are at increased risk of food allergy if one or both of your parents have asthma, food allergy, or another type of allergy, such as hay fever, hives, or eczema.
- Age. Egg allergy is more common in children. With age, the digestive system matures and allergic food reactions are less likely to occur.
The most significant complication of egg allergy is a severe allergic reaction requiring an injection of epinephrine and emergency treatment.
The same immune system reaction that causes egg allergy can also cause other conditions. If you or your child are allergic to eggs, you or your child may be at increased risk of:
- Allergies to other foods, such as milk, soy, or peanuts
- Allergies to pet dander, dust mites, or grass pollen
- Allergic skin reactions such as atopic dermatitis
- Asthma, which in turn increases the risk of having a severe allergic reaction to eggs or other foods
Here are some things you can do to avoid an allergic reaction and to keep it from getting worse if it does occur.
- Read food labels carefully. Some people react to foods containing only traces of eggs.
- Be careful when eating out. Your server or even the cook may not be completely sure that a food contains egg protein.
- Wear an allergy bracelet or necklace. This can be especially important if you or your child have a severe reaction and cannot tell caregivers or others what is happening.
- Tell your child’s caregivers about their egg allergy. Tell your child’s babysitters, teachers, parents, or other caregivers about an egg allergy so they don’t accidentally give your child products that contain eggs. Make sure they understand what to do in an emergency.
- If you are breastfeeding, avoid eggs. If your child is allergic to eggs, they may react to proteins passed through your milk.
Hidden sources of egg products
Unfortunately, even if a food is labeled egg-free, it may still contain egg protein. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
Foods that contain eggs can include:
- Baked goods
- breaded foods
- Processed meat, meatloaf and meatballs
- Puddings and custards
- lots of pasta
- Foam on alcoholic specialty coffees
Several terms indicate that egg products have been used in the manufacture of processed foods, including:
- Words beginning with “ova” or “ovo”, such as ovalbumin or ovoglobulin
Another potential source of exposure is cross-contamination in dishes or meals prepared at home, especially when eating at other people’s homes where they may not be aware of the risk.
Vaccinations and egg allergy
Some vaccines to prevent disease contain egg protein. In some people, these vaccines pose a risk of triggering an allergic reaction.
- Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines are generally safe for children with egg allergies, even if eggs are used to produce them.
- Influenza (flu) vaccines sometimes contain small amounts of egg protein. However, a flu vaccine that does not contain these proteins is approved for use in adults 18 years of age and older. And even vaccines containing egg protein can be safely given to most egg-allergic people without any problems. If you or your child have ever had a reaction to eggs, talk to your doctor before getting the flu shot.
- Yellow fever vaccine may cause an allergic reaction in some people with an egg allergy. It is granted to travelers entering countries where there is a risk of contracting yellow fever. It is generally not recommended for people with an egg allergy, but is sometimes given under medical supervision after testing for a reaction.
- Other vaccines are generally safe for people with egg allergies. But ask your doctor, just to be sure. If your doctor is concerned about a vaccine, they may test you or your child to see if it is likely to cause a reaction.