Symptoms, treatment, diet, vaccine safety
An egg allergy is a very common food allergy in children, causing a significant effect on the quality of life of the child and the family. However, many children will outgrow the allergy as they get older.
In the United States, approximately 0.9% of all children and 1.3% of children under 5 are allergic to eggs. It is the second most common food allergy in children after cow’s milk.
An egg allergy occurs because the body’s immune system mistakes the protein in an egg for a foreign invader. The immune system response then triggers a reaction, which can range from mild to severe. Until two-thirds allergic children may also only show symptoms when they touch or eat raw or lightly cooked eggs.
These people have a higher likelihood of outgrowing the allergy later in life. About 70% of all children with egg allergy exceeded it before the age of 16.
This article reviews the symptoms, causes, treatment, and other information about egg allergies.
An egg allergy can cause a person to develop several symptoms. These can vary from a mild rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Eggs can cause symptoms throughout the body if the person is allergic to eggs. The allergy can affect various areas of the body, including the:
- skin, causing hives, possibly with mild to severe swelling
- eyes, causing watering, redness, or itching
- lungs, causing shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, or difficulty breathing
- stomach, causing repeated vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea
- throat, causing tightness or difficulty in inhaling or breathing
- brain, causing mood or behavior changes and dizziness
- nose, causing congestion, sneezing, or itching, or a copious amount of clear discharge
In severe cases, this can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. A person or child should seek medical attention immediately if this happens.
Anaphylaxis is another serious, life-threatening risk that could occur due to any allergy. This usually happens suddenly and can include symptoms such as:
- difficulty breathing
- hives or swelling
- abdominal pain
- rapid heart rate
- throat tightness
- heart attack
- Low blood pressure
- feelings of unhappiness
Once a person has an anaphylactic reaction, they are more likely to have another one, and subsequent reactions can be more severe. If symptoms are severe, a person, parent, or caregiver should call 911 immediately.
The cause of an egg allergy is an overactive immune system.
A person’s immune system mistakes the protein in the egg white, yolk, or both as a foreign invader. It then attacks it by releasing histamine.
The histamine then causes the allergic reaction, such as hives, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
To receive a diagnosis, parents or caregivers should speak to an allergist, who some may call an immunologist. Parents or caregivers should ask them to examine their child if they show signs or symptoms of a reaction. This reaction can occur after eating eggs or egg products, coming into contact with raw eggs, or using an egg product.
To diagnose the allergy, an allergist may administer a blood test or skin test.
A skin test involves placing a small amount of egg on the skin. The doctor then uses a sterile needle to prick the skin which allows the egg to seep into the skin. The doctor then waits 15 to 20 minutes to see if a small welt or rash forms.
A blood test requires a medical professional to take a sample of blood and send it to a lab for analysis. The lab will look for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies against egg protein.
If neither test yields conclusive results, a doctor may order a food challenge test. This is when the person eats a small amount of egg in the doctor’s office to see if a reaction occurs.
Finally, a doctor may recommend a food elimination test. It is at this time that a person completely eliminates egg products from the diet, and then gradually reintroduces them. If symptoms go away after removal but come back when they reintroduce the egg, the person likely has an egg allergy.
The best approach that a person can take is to completely avoid eggs, as well as all products containing them. This will help the person avoid an allergic reaction.
If they come into contact with eggs, a person may find that antihistamines help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Once a person has been diagnosed with an egg allergy, an allergist may prescribe epinephrine in an auto-injector. This medication can help save a person’s life if they suffer from anaphylaxis from exposure to eggs.
The greatest risk with egg allergies is anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening reaction that can cause symptoms including a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and severe swelling.
A person may also find that they have a reaction to several kinds of eggs alongside chicken eggs. They should avoid other types of eggs to avoid an allergic reaction.
Although directly avoiding contact with eggs does not present a major problem for people, avoiding all products containing eggs can be difficult. Many foods and products may contain it.
In the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that all manufacturers of processed foods include a plain language warning that the product contains eggs or was produced in the presence of eggs or egg products. People should therefore read all labels carefully to ensure that the product they are buying does not contain eggs.
A person should also clarify with an allergist all the foods that he should avoid.
Some egg products that a person may not expect include:
- baked goods
- condiments and sauces, such as mayonnaise
- meatloaf, meatballs and other meat products
- ice cream
Previously, the flu shot contained eggs. This is no longer the caseso someone with an egg allergy can safely get a flu shot if they live in the United States
However, the yellow fever vaccine contains eggs. Although not part of the standard vaccination program in the United States, travel to countries in South America or Africa may require vaccination.
A doctor can write a note for someone with an egg allergy if they plan to travel to a country that requires yellow fever vaccination.
If a person has any doubts, they should consult their doctor about their vaccinations.
Egg allergy is the second most common food allergy among children in the United States. Although some children can tolerate baked goods, it’s generally best to avoid any products that contain egg whites, yolks, or both.
Treatment is to avoid eggs and products containing eggs. In some cases, a doctor may recommend an antihistamine and prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector for a severe allergic reaction.