Parenthood is a thrilling and terrifying ride, isn’t it? But if you’ve found out your child has any of the most common food allergies, and an egg allergy specifically, it feels more terrifying than fun. After all, discovering that something as miraculous as French toast leads your child to develop a rash. Or vomit. Or have trouble breathing. It makes navigating a world where egg seems to be in literally everything look like even more of a minefield. And let’s not even start with the insensitive reactions other parents can have to your kids’ allergy food restrictions.
But, we come bearing good news. Dr. Tricia Lee, a pediatric allergist and immunologist in New York City, always tells her patients that “if you have to have a food allergy, egg is maybe not a bad one to have. Because most people will outgrow their egg allergy.”
Still, Lee understands that the struggle is, well, real. She is a mother of two after all, and knows having a kid with an allergy adds “another level of things to do.” Not to mention another level of things to worry about.
Luckily, with the help of some excellent professional advice, we’re here to help you demystify the world of egg allergies to, hopefully, help you feel a little bit less overwhelmed.
What is an egg allergy and what are its symptoms?
According to Lee, when we think of an egg allergy — we usually think of eggs causing what she calls “an immediate life-threatening reaction.” That means you see the reaction typically within 30 minutes of ingesting the egg, though symptoms might improve after a few hours.
The symptoms range from a rash, to problems breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling. “In most of these situations, an antihistamine like Benadryl can be given for a mild reaction but for a severe reaction, epinephrine is going to be the main treatment — which is a life-saving treatment,” says Lee.
Can you outgrow an egg allergy?
The good news is that the majority of children can outgrow an egg allergy. However, according to Lee, “there’s a percentage that’s not going to outgrow it, and that percentage is potentially increasing” along with the number of kids who have food allergies in general. About 40 percent may be allergic for much longer throughout childhood. The really bad news is that “the longer you have an egg allergy you’re less likely to outgrow it,” she says.
Is there a way to help my child outgrow an egg allergy?
“There has been some evidence to support that eating baked egg, like in a muffin, can help you outgrow your egg allergy,” says Lee. But don’t just start giving your egg-allergic child muffins from the local bakery. For allergists, this is a highly clinical process.
She explains, “If I’m seeing a patient — they’ve had a reaction to scrambled or hard-boiled eggs for the first few times — then we’ll do the skin test, which takes about 15 minutes [and during which] I expect a red itchy bump. If they had a reaction, I’m going to send them for blood work — in blood work, you can usually see the component of egg white. If the levels are low enough to consider baked egg then [the parent will] make a muffin at home based on a specific recipe that was used at a study at Mt. Sinai.”
This is something you are going to want to do with your child’s allergist, so definitely discuss it with them before proceeding.
How long does it take to outgrow an egg allergy?
“The majority of kids will outgrow their egg allergies by school age, though in some studies even up to teenage years. But by being on baked eggs it can be sooner,” explains Lee. “[For] a lot of my kids, we’ll do baked eggs for 6 to 12 months, we’ll come back for a retest [and] it will be significantly lower or negative. So the hope is that within a few years of doing baked eggs we’ll be able to get to a regular egg.”
How do you test for an egg allergy?
There are two ways a pediatric allergist can test for allergies in their office, through a skin test and a blood test. But, as Lee says, “food skin and blood allergy testing are only good at predicting immediate life-threatening reaction.” That means a reaction that you can usually see within 30 minutes of ingestion.
Are allergic reactions different for babies?
Yes! The good news is that there’s been data to support that babies younger than a year old can have less severe reactions than older children. So yes, certainly something to assuage your fear about exposing your little one to eggs.
How and when do you first introduce eggs to babies?
Evidence now shows that early introduction of allergenic food is the best course of action. That means, somewhere in the 6-month to 9-month age-range, when you’re starting to introduce solids. Yeah, we know, it’s terrifying enough without thinking of allergies. But with eggs, that can be a bit tougher because babies have to be able to chew and swallow scrambled or hard-boiled eggs.
Do allergic reactions get worse every time?
“There’s an old wives tale that the more you eat or that with every ingestion reactions get worse — I wouldn’t say that’s the case. I would say that if I’m diagnosing you with that type of food allergy, then you could have a more severe reaction later in time. There are multiple factors that play into the severity of the reaction and unfortunately, there’s not great test to predict the severity of the reaction,” says Lee.
She adds, “It’s how much did you eat, how much was in your stomach, did you run around, did you have a virus…. So in an egg-allergic kid, depending on those other surrounding factors, maybe they eat scrambled egg today and they just have a rash, tomorrow they have vomiting, the next day they have trouble breathing, then the next day they have a rash. So what’s going to happen is a bit unpredictable. That’s where the fear of food allergy comes. That’s why we stress strict avoidance and carrying an Epipen to be prepared.”
How do you treat an egg allergy?
Avoidance is still the best policy for everyone with a food allergy and is the only FDA approved way to treat allergies right now. But there are a lot of brilliant minds out there looking for creative solutions for food allergies.
“What is being heavily researched right now is the concept of oral immunotherapy,” explains Lee. “It’s similar to the concept of giving an egg-allergic child a baked muffin — eating it in amounts that are safe and the patient is taking a daily dose — as if it were a medicine. Initially, we had hoped that it would cure food allergies and we’re actually finding that it’s much harder to do that. But studies have shown that it can increase your tolerance. It’s the concept of protecting yourself from cross-contact. If you’re at a birthday party and you accidentally have — instead of having a severe reaction you have a milder reaction.”
What are the foods I should avoid if my kid has an egg allergy?
This is a tricky one. Eggs are in a lot of food. Certainly, your best bet is to either cook at home where you know everything that goes into your child’s food or to buy packaged food products. Luckily, the FDA mandates that products with eggs be labeled as such.
How do I deal with birthday parties and communal snacks when my kid has an egg allergy?
The social aspect of having a food allergy is hardest for younger kids who are still learning how to interact with others and cope with their medical needs. That’s especially hard with eggs and difficult at those kids’ birthday parties, which become a big deal when children hit 2, 3, and 4 years old, and often come along with lavish, over-the-top and mouth-watering birthday cakes or cupcakes. Parents should be mindful of the egg in a cake, cupcake, and the icing as well.
You can always take special food and treats for your child if attending a weekend birthday party. But preschool parties, which you often won’t know about in advance, are especially complicated. Stock up on specially prepared muffins for your little one and keep some frozen at the school or daycare.
Of course, wherever you go, make sure that you or the school always have life-saving medications, like an Epipen, in case of accidental ingestion.
Are there factors that make one more likely to have an egg allergy?
Yes, there are. While family history can potentially increase concern, “the statistic that we do have is going from the first kid to the second kid. The second kid has a 7 percent chance of having a food allergy which is higher than the general public,” says Lee. So, unfortunately, having one allergic child makes it more likely for you to have a second child with allergies as well.
Additionally, children with eczema may be at a higher risk for an egg allergy, and having an egg allergy increases the risk factor for having peanut allergies and asthma.
What’s a good way to talk to kids about their allergies?
A lot of times, making your kids’ allergies less stressful for them means making them less stressful for, well, you. It’s about controlling your own anxiety as a parent, which we know, is easier said than done. But start working on that before your child is older and more aware of it.
Lee recommends teaching children about their allergies the way we would about wearing a helmet or a seatbelt. So saying things like: “‘Ok, we’re always going to bring our Epipen, we’re going to wash our hands, we are not going to share food, we are going to ask if the allergen is in there.’ It’s teaching the child how to live that day-to-day life.”
Most importantly, when speaking to younger kids, use simple, direct, and age-appropriate talking points like the following:
— You have a food allergy, and anything with eggs can make you feel very sick. (Use simple terms like “safe food’ and “unsafe food”.)
— Don’t have food that has not been approved of by mommy or daddy.
— Tell us or your teacher if your tummy hurts, you don’t feel good, or feel funny.
— Teach them what foods will make them sick, pointing them out during a trip to the supermarket. Tell your child what the emergency plan is (medicine, emergency room) so they know what to expect.
Parents can turn to resources like books, videos, games, apps, and music that have been specifically tailored to teach younger kids about food allergies. For example, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has created a Mr. Nose-It-All character to help children understand and identify their allergy and symptoms through games and play.
How do I talk to other parents or party hosts about my child’s egg allergy?
Sending your child out into the world is hard enough, sometimes you also have to deal with social gatherings outside of your control. When it comes to playdates, birthday parties, or other celebrations, never feel uncomfortable making special dietary requests of party hosts or family members. No, you’re not breaking some etiquette rule. What you are doing, however, is ensuring a safe space for your child to play, eat, and enjoy life.
Even so, if you’re just not sure how to approach the topic yet, the best move here is to keep the conversation direct, simple, and as far ahead of time as possible so the host can make all the necessary preparations. Thankfully, other parents in your child’s school won’t even think of this as a big deal as basically all daycares and schools are already allergen free environments. Also, with so many bakeries offering food-allergy friendly cakes and treats, getting an egg-free cake might not even be that big of a deal.
You might need to be a little more patient with older relatives or those with adult children. That’s because, per the CDC, the rate of food allergies in children has gone up a shocking 50 percent between 1991 and 2011. You may need to offer some more clarity on your child’s needs.
What the #1 tip for parents of kids with allergies?
Just the thought that our kids’ allergies could be deadly is enough to keep us up at night. And in the age of social media and quickly propagating stories, every death from an allergy only adds to a parents’ anxieties. The solution for some very frightened parents is to lock the door and hide their kids away. But the truth is that having allergies shouldn’t limit your kids in any way.
If you find yourself not doing something because of your kids’ allergy, from boarding a plane to visiting a grandparent or hitting up the park, call your allergist or doctor and help them find a solution with you.
What are some resources for parents of children with food allergies?
If your child has food allergies, an allergist may offer medical support, but not the day-to-day emotional support parents may need. Which is why joining an online or Facebook community and group of parents who’s children have food allergies may be perfect. With so many different groups out there, parents can easily find a group for their child’s specific allergy. There members can ask questions and be directed towards resources they may not have known existed. Parents can ask for tips and advice on how to talk to young kids about allergies and safety, share recipes, and even offer that extra bit of support.
Food allergy podcasts for parents
Conversations From The World of Allergy — The official podcast from AAAAI is an integral resource for parents trying to navigate school, life, and their children’s allergies. With expert guests offering tips and advice, it’s not meant as individual medical advice, but as a guide on day-to-day living. Per the podcast’s official website: “This podcast is not intended to provide any individual medical advice to our listeners. We do hope that our conversations provide evidence-based information.” All specific medical queries should always be addressed to your child’s allergist.
Exploring Food Allergy Families — This podcast examines the realities of living with food allergies and its impact on the physical, mental, and emotional health of all involved. With tips and hacks offered by the show’s host and guests, it could serve as a helpful resource for parents.