An egg allergy is a very common food allergy in children, causing a significant effect on the quality of life for the child and family. However, many children will outgrow the allergy as they grow up.
In the United States, around 0.9% of all children and 1.3% of children under the age of 5 have an egg allergy. It is the second most common food allergy in children after dairy milk.
An egg allergy occurs because the body’s immune system mistakes the protein in an egg as a foreign invader. The immune system response then triggers a reaction, which can vary from mild to severe. Up to two-thirds of children with the allergy also may only have symptoms when touching or eating raw or lightly cooked eggs.
These individuals have a higher likelihood of outgrowing the allergy later in life. About 70% of all children with an egg allergy outgrow it by the time they turn 16 years of age.
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 range from a mild rash to life threatening anaphylaxis.
Eggs can cause symptoms to occur throughout the body if the person has an egg allergy. The allergy can affect various bodily areas, including the:
- skin, causing hives, possibly with mild to severe swelling
- eyes, causing tearing, redness, or itchiness
- lungs, causing shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, or trouble breathing
- stomach, causing repeated vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea
- throat, causing tightness or trouble inhaling or breathing
- brain, causing changes in mood or behavior and dizziness
- nose, causing congestion, sneezing or itching, or a copious amount of clear discharge
In severe cases, it can cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure. A person or child should seek immediate medical attention if this occurs.
Anaphylaxis is another serious, life threatening risk that could occur due to any allergy. It typically occurs suddenly and can include symptoms such as:
- trouble breathing
- hoarse voice
- hives or swelling
- abdominal pain
- rapid heartbeat
- tightness of the throat
- cardiac arrest
- low blood pressure
- feelings of doom
Once a person has one anaphylaxis reaction, they are more likely to have another, and subsequent reactions may 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, releasing histamine.
Histamine then causes the allergic reaction, such as hives, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis.
To receive a diagnosis, parents or caregivers should speak with an allergist, which some may call an immunologist. Parents or caregivers should ask them to examine their child if they exhibit any signs or symptoms of a reaction. This reaction may occur after eating eggs or products that contain eggs, coming in contact with raw eggs, or using a product containing egg.
To diagnose the allergy, an allergist may administer a blood test or skin prick test.
A skin prick test involves placing a small amount of egg material on the skin. The doctor then uses a sterile needle to make a prick in the skin that allows the egg to seep into the skin. The doctor then waits 15–20 minutes to see if a small welt or rash forms.
A blood test requires that a healthcare professional draw a blood sample and send it to a lab for testing. The lab will search for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies to 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. This is when a person completely eliminates egg-containing products from the diet and then gradually reintroduces them. If the symptoms go away after removal but return when they reintroduce the egg, the person likely has an egg allergy.
The best approach a person can take is to avoid eggs altogether, along with any products containing them. This will help the person avoid an allergic reaction.
If they do come in contact with eggs, a person may find that antihistamines help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Once a person has an egg allergy diagnosis, an allergist may prescribe them epinephrine in an auto-injector. This medication can help save a person’s life if they experience anaphylaxis from exposure to eggs.
The biggest risk with egg allergies is anaphylaxis. This is a potentially life threatening reaction that can cause symptoms, including drops in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and severe swelling.
A person may also find they have a reaction to multiple sorts of eggs beside hen’s eggs. They should avoid other types of eggs to prevent an allergic reaction.
While directly avoiding contact with eggs may not present a major problem for people, avoiding all products that contain eggs can be challenging. Several foods and products may contain them.
In the U.S., the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires that all manufacturers of processed foods include a plain language warning indicating that the product contains eggs or was made in the presence of eggs or egg products. People should therefore read all labels carefully to make sure the product they are buying does not contain eggs.
A person should also clarify with an allergist all foods they must avoid.
Some products that contain egg that a person may not expect include:
- baked goods
- condiments and sauces, such as mayonnaise
- meatloaf, meatballs, and other meat-based products
- ice cream
Previously, the flu vaccination contained eggs. This is no longer the case, so a person with an egg allergy can safely get the flu vaccination if they live in the U.S.
However, the vaccination for yellow fever does contain eggs. Though not a part of the standard vaccination program in the U.S., travel to countries in South America or Africa may require the vaccination.
A doctor can write a note for a person with an egg allergy if they plan to travel to a country that requires the 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 in children in the U.S. Though some children may tolerate baked goods, it is generally best to avoid all products that contain egg whites, yolks, or both.
Treatment involves avoiding eggs and egg-containing products. In some cases, a doctor may recommend an antihistamine and prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector in case of a severe allergic reaction.