Parenthood is a thrilling and terrifying ride, isn’t it? But if you’ve found out your child — or you — have any of the most common food allergies, such as peanut, milk, or soy, and an egg allergy specifically, it feels more terrifying than fun. After all, who wants to discover that something as miraculous as French toast leads to 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 people can have to 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, whether you have them or your child. And, hopefully, help you feel a little bit less overwhelmed.
What is an egg allergy, and what are its symptoms?
An allergy to eggs generally means your body produces an immune response when it encounters egg proteins. As a result, a person can be allergic to either the whole egg, just the whites, or just the yolk (although, it’s most common to be allergic to egg whites, according to the Mayo Clinic). 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.
Egg Allergy Symptoms Include:
- A rash, eczema, or hives
- Problems breathing
- Chest tightness
- Stomach cramps
- Stuffy or runny nose, and sneezing
Child-specific Egg Allergy Symptoms:
- Skin reactions on contact with eggs
- Face redness
- Hives around the mouth
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. The good news is there’s been data to support babies younger than a year old can have less severe reactions than older children. So, that’s certainly something to assuage your fear about exposing your little one to eggs.
“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. When watching for a severe reaction, also known as anaphylaxis, look for signs of trouble breathing, a feeling of tightness in the chest, intense stomach cramps, or a rapid heartbeat. Additionally, anaphylaxis can send people into shock, which presents as a drop in blood pressure accompanied by dizziness and fainting. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency, so if you or your child is experiencing symptoms get help right away.
Foods to Avoid if You Have an Egg Allergy
When you stop to think about it, 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 food or your child’s food, or to buy packaged food products. Luckily, the FDA mandates that products with eggs be labeled as such.
Here are a few products to avoid if you have an egg allergy:
- Breads, including glossy breads like bagels and pretzels
- Most pastas
- Root beer
- Salad dressings
- Cream fillings
- Fried foods that may contain egg in the batter
Additionally, people with egg allergies should be familiar with ingredients that suggest eggs are present in a product. These ingredients include:
- Egg substitutes (these usually include egg whites),
- Artificial and natural flavorings
It’s also important to note that some non-food items are made with eggs as well.
- Finger paints
- Medications (always make sure your doctor is aware of you or your child’s allergy)
- Vaccines, including the flu vaccine and the MMR (for measles, mumps, and rubella)
Can you outgrow an egg allergy?
The good news is that the majority of children can outgrow an egg allergy by school age, though in some studies even up to teenage years. . 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.
“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 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.”
Is egg allergy hereditary?
That’s a tricky one, because 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.
Sudden Egg Allergy in Adults: Can you suddenly become allergic to eggs?
While a person can grow out of an egg allergy over time, it’s unlikely for the reverse to happen. Egg allergies are unlikely to suddenly develop in adulthood, but you may develop an egg intolerance at any time. The key difference between a food allergy and food intolerance is that an allergy has the potential to be life-threatening.
Allergies occur when the body produces an immune response after you consume the offending food item, in this case, eggs. This overreaction of the immune system can lead to hives, rashes, trouble breathing, and other dangerous issues. On the other hand, an intolerance will primarily affect your stomach. Do you get diarrhea after eating scrambled eggs or an omelet? Then you may have developed an egg intolerance.
The most common symptoms of egg intolerance are nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. It’s definitely unpleasant, but intolerance isn’t life-threatening. Additionally, just because you have developed an intolerance that doesn’t mean it will turn into a full-blown allergy in the future. Chances are, you’ll just be stuck dealing with an upset stomach whenever you give in and order a quiche at lunch.
Unfortunately, diagnosing intolerance is tricky. There currently aren’t any tests that are 100 percent accurate, so your best bet is trying a food elimination diet. Basically, if cutting eggs out of your diet for a week or so alleviates your symptoms, then eggs may very well be the culprit causing your stomach issues. If you discover you have developed an intolerance, then you should avoid foods containing eggs where possible and discuss the issue with your doctor just in case you need to take vitamins to bridge the gap in your diet.
What you need to know about egg allergies and the flu vaccine
As if people with egg allergies didn’t have enough to worry about, deciding whether or not to get the flu vaccine is also a struggle. This is because the vaccine includes a small amount of ovalbumin, an egg protein. However, the latest CDC guidelines recommend people with egg allergies still get their annual flu shot.
The CDC reports that severe allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are rare, even in people with egg allergies. In fact, if your allergies are mild, then you can get your shot from any licensed doctor or pharmacist. If you have had a severe reaction to eggs in the past, like anaphylaxis, then the CDC recommends receiving the shot in an inpatient or outpatient facility where you can be monitored for a severe reaction. But on the whole, the small amount of egg protein in the injection rarely leads to complications in people with allergies.