Egg Allergy: What Are the Symptoms?
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.
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.
Egg White or Yolk?
People with an egg allergy are usually allergic to proteins in the egg whites (albumen). However, proteins that cause an allergy can be found in egg yolks as well. Doctors usually advise patients with either an egg white or egg yolk allergy to avoid eggs entirely since completely separating egg whites and egg yolks can be difficult.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. Symptoms can appear as quickly as a few minutes after consuming an egg. Most egg allergy symptoms involve the skin. Hives are one of the first signs of an allergic reaction to eggs. These red, swollen patches usually appear on the face and around the mouth. Other mild allergic symptoms include:
- nasal inflammation or congestion
- asthma symptoms, such as coughing or tight chest
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, cramps, and sometimes vomiting
Although rare, a life-threatening allergic reaction to eggs, called anaphylaxis, can affect some people. Anaphylaxis quickly affects multiple body systems at once, leading to the following dangerous symptoms:
- rapid drop in blood pressure
- constriction of the throat leading to difficulty breathing
- swelling of the tongue and lips
- loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis must be treated immediately with an injected dose of epinephrine (adrenaline) to counteract the allergic reaction. Epinephrine works quickly to increase blood pressure, stimulate the heart, improve breathing, and reduce swelling.
Eggs and Their Aliases
The only way to prevent an allergic reaction to eggs is to avoid eating or coming in contact with them. Reading all food and beverage labels for the presence of eggs or egg protein is extremely important. Sometimes manufacturers use other terms to indicate the use of egg protein in products. Avoid products that have the following egg protein ingredients:
- albumin or albumen
- words starting with "ova" or "ovo," the prefix for ovum, which means egg in Latin
Unexpected Sources of Eggs
Egg protein can appear in many types of food and drink—often in unexpected places. Besides being used in baked goods, some of the other places eggs can be found include:
- specialty drinks, such as eggnog
- salad dressing
- meatloaf and meatballs
- cake frosting
If you’re ever uncertain if a product contains eggs or egg proteins, contact the manufacturer.
Treating 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.
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