Eggs are one of the most common allergy-causing foods. Egg allergies many times show up in childhood and can even affect babies as young as 6 months of age. Luckily, 70% of children outgrow this problem by age 16, many by age 5. Allergies that develop in adults will usually never disappear.
What is Happening?
When a person with an egg allergy eats this product, the immune system overreacts. It mistakenly identifies egg proteins as harmful. Histamines and other chemicals are released and antibodies against these proteins are produced. These cause the allergic symptoms.
Any egg allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe. Mild reactions would include skin rashes, hives, coughing, and digestive disturbances. Most reactions involve the skin and can include eczema, such as atopic dermatitis The most severe symptom would be anaphylaxis, in which the person would become unable to breath and develop extremely low blood pressure. The severity of symptoms can vary each time. Intolerance to egg can become a true allergy over time.
It is possible to be allergic to only the egg white, only the yolk, or both. Even if diagnosed as allergic to only the white or the yolk you should avoid eggs altogether because it is not really possible to completely separate the white from the yolk.
Making the Diagnosis
Seeing a doctor is the first move. Your doctor may also need to rule out other causes for the symptoms. They may refer you (or your child) to an allergist, a doctor who specializes in the care of these problems.
Testing can start with the skin prick test. In this test a small amount of fluid containing egg proteins is picked into the skin. If a reaction develops at the test location an allergy is likely. Blood testing for IgE antibodies against the proteins can also check for egg intolerance.
An egg challenge or elimination from the patient’s diet may be the last tests the doctor requests. If the patient reacts to the food in a challenge situation this may confirm the egg sensitivity. If they are completely eliminated from the diet for at least 2 weeks and symptoms disappear, the allergy would also be confirmed.
Most times a combination of testing is done to make the diagnosis. Some people are only allergic to raw eggs and can eat small amounts of them cooked, especially in baked goods.
No egg allergy treatment such as a medication can cure the problem or prevent an allergic reaction. Antihistamines can decrease symptoms when the allergy is mild but they won’t prevent a reaction, and they cannot treat a severe reaction. For that you need epinephrine and medical care. The reaction can be prolonged or rebound so the patient needs to remain under medical care for at least 12 hours.
Avoidance of all eggs and their products is the only way to prevent a reaction. This may sound easy, but it isn’t. Egg products are in many foods and even some personal care items. Examples of foods to avoid, containing hidden eggs include frosting, salad dressing, marshmallows, soup, pretzels, and root beer. Some brands of egg substitute contain egg protein. Components of processed food you have to watch for include lecithin, simplesse, and albumin. Non-food products that can contain the offengin proteins include shampoo, medications and finger paints. Cross contamination at home or in the production of processed foods also presents problems for those who are highly sensitive.
Vaccines are a worry of many with this problem. Measles-mumps-rubella is considered safe as well as flu vaccines. Other vaccines are not considered as safe so before receiving any vaccination you should talk with your doctor, and you should always receive the vaccination in a doctor’s office.
How do I cook without eggs?
Cooking and baking with egg free recipes may at first seem impossible, but there are very acceptable substitutions. When substituting up to 3 eggs some substitutions (per egg) include:
- 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon yeast dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
- 1 ½ tablespoons water, 1 ½ tablespoons oil, and 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 packet gelatin in 1 tablespoon warm water mixed when ready to use
Also consider looking for egg-free options of your favorite foodss
Once the diagnosis of egg allergy is made you will need to work to avoid them. Never attempt re-testing for the allergy without the help of a physician. If the patient is young hopefully they will outgrow their problem. If that never happens they will need to be careful their entire life. It may not be easy, but it will be worth the work to avoid the reaction.
A recent study in the New England Journal of medicine has given very promising results in terms of future treatment. With a technique known as oral immunotherapy, the patient is desensitized to the egg proteins. It was shown to lead to the allergy clearing up in a large proportion of patients in the long term. This may lead to a huge change for the better in terms of how egg allergies are treated going forward.