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Egg Allergy Overview
Egg allergy develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to proteins in egg whites or yolks. When eggs are eaten, the body sees the protein as a foreign invader and sends out chemicals to defend against it. Those chemicals cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Experts estimate that as many as 2 percent of children are allergic to eggs. Fortunately, studies show that about 70 percent of children with an egg allergy will outgrow the condition by age 16.
Still, the stakes are high: Children who are allergic to eggs can have reactions ranging from a mild rash to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that impairs breathing and can send the body into shock.
What is an Egg Allergy?
Egg allergies are one of the most common types of food allergies affecting children, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). An egg allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies proteins found in eggs as harmful invaders and launches an attack. The immune system releases chemicals, such as histamine, in response to the egg protein. This onslaught of histamine in the body results in troublesome allergy symptoms.
Symptoms of Egg Allergy
Egg allergy reactions vary from person to person and usually occur soon after exposure to egg. Egg allergy symptoms can include:
- Skin inflammation or hives the most common egg allergy reaction
- Nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing (allergic rhinitis)
- Digestive symptoms, such as cramps, nausea and vomiting
- Asthma signs and symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath
Diagnosis of Egg Allergy
Eggs are one of the most common food allergens. People with an allergy to chicken eggs may also be allergic to other types of eggs, such as goose, duck, turkey or quail.
Within a short period of time after eating (or even touching) eggs, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Skin reactions, such as swelling, a rash, hives or eczema
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Runny nose and sneezingRed or watery eyes
- Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Anaphylaxis (less common)
If you or your child experiences any of these symptoms, see an allergist.Your allergist may diagnose an egg allergy through a skin-prick test or a blood test.
In the skin-prick test, a small amount of a liquid containing egg protein is placed on the back or forearm, which is then pricked with a small, sterile probe to allow the liquid to seep into the skin. If a raised, reddish spot forms within 15 to 20 minutes, that can indicate an allergy. Depending on the protein in the liquid, skin-prick tests can determine whether your allergy is to egg white proteins or egg yolk proteins. Allergy to egg white proteins is most common.
In the blood test, a blood sample is sent to a laboratory to test for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies to egg protein.
If these tests arent definitive, your allergist may order an oral food challenge. Under medical supervision, youll eat small amounts of egg to see if a reaction develops. Because of the possibility that a reaction could be severe, this test is conducted in your allergists office or at a food challenge center with emergency equipment and medication on hand.
A food elimination diet also may be used to determine if an allergy is present. If symptoms disappear when eggs are removed from the diet and reappear when eggs are again eaten, an egg allergy is likely.
Who Gets an Egg Allergy?
While anyone can develop an egg allergy, some babies and children have a higher chance of developing the allergy under these circumstances:
- Skin conditions. Children with certain skin conditions, especially eczema, are more likely to develop allergies to food such as eggs.
- Genetics. If one or both parents has a food allergy or any other type of allergy, such as seasonal allergies, their child is at greater risk for developing a food allergy.
- Age. Egg allergies commonly affect children. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology (ACAAI), almost 70 percent of children with an egg allergy outgrow it by the age of 16.
Causes of Egg Allergy
An immune system overreaction causes food allergies. For egg allergy, the immune system mistakenly identifies certain egg proteins as harmful. When you or your child comes in 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 allergy to egg whites is most common. It’s possible for breast-fed infants to have an allergic reaction to egg proteins in breast milk if the mother consumes eggs.
Treating Egg Allergic Reactions
If you or your child has been diagnosed with having an egg allergy, you will work closely with an allergist to devise a plan on how to manage the condition. An allergic reaction to eggs is treated the same way allergic reactions to other foods are treated.
For mild symptoms, doctors usually suggest taking medications such as antihistamines to help ease the discomfort of the symptoms. To treat anaphylaxis, an immediate dose of epinephrine needs to be given to counteract the life-threatening reaction. Further care should be given at an emergency room. Failure to treat anaphylaxis can lead to death.