An egg allergy forms when your body overacts to the proteins found within egg yolks or whites as your immune system becomes sensitive towards these. Essentially, the proteins are seen as a foreign attacker and your body will start to defend itself against them by sending out chemicals. It is these chemicals that cause the allergic reaction you may be experiencing.
According to research, up to 2 percent of children have an egg allergy but 70 percent of these will outgrow this by the time they are 16. However, with the reactions of a child who’s allergic to eggs ranging from a mild rash to life-threatening conditions such as anaphylaxis, it’s important to understand egg allergies and what the symptoms are.
What Are the Symptoms of Egg Allergies?
If someone is allergic to eggs, they’re not alone as this is the most common food allergen. It’s also common for those suffering from an allergy to chicken eggs to also suffer from the same allergic reaction to other eggs like quail, turkey, duck or goose eggs.
Should you or your child be suffering from an egg allergy, you will normally notice one of the following symptoms not long after you have eaten or touched an egg: stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea; red or watery eyes; a runny nose or sneezing; difficulty breathing or wheezing; a skin reaction like eczema, hives, a rash or swelling; or, anaphylaxis (the least common reaction) whereby breathing is impaired and the body is sent into shock.
Should you find that you are suffering any of these types of symptoms, you should consult an allergist immediately or a doctor if you are experiencing some of the more severe symptoms.
How is an Egg Allergy Diagnosed?
When you consult an allergist about the possibility of an egg allergy, they may diagnose it through a blood test or a skin-prick test.
During a skin-prick test, they will place a tiny drop of liquid on the back of your forearm which contains some egg protein. They’ll then use a small, sterile probe to prick your skin, which will allow for the liquid to enter into the skin. An allergy may be indicated if after 15 to 20 minutes a reddish, raised spot starts to form on your arm. Allergists can also use these types of tests to determine whether you have an allergy to egg yolk proteins or egg white proteins by using one or the other in the liquid they place on your arm. The most common allergy is to egg white proteins.
If the allergist uses a blood test, they’ll take a routine blood sample to send off to a laboratory to test for the antibodies in egg proteins (immunoglobulin E).
Sometimes, these tests aren’t definitive enough, which may mean you’ll have to complete an oral food challenge. This will involve you eating tiny amounts of eggs under medical supervision to see if you have any reactions. As some reactions can be severe, this will be done at a food challenge center or allergists office where they have emergency medication and equipment on standby should you need it.
Other allergists may also recommend a food elimination diet to try and find out what you’re allergic to. Removing eggs from your diet will help them, and you, to monitor whether the symptoms disappear. If they do, and they reappear once you start eating eggs again, it is quite likely that you are suffering from an egg allergy.
How Do You Manage and Treat an Egg Allergy?
Avoiding eggs in any form is the best way to manage your egg allergy. As eggs are hidden in a lot of foods, including ice cream, soups and even meat dishes, you’ll have to be incredibly vigilant when buying products in a supermarket or eating something at a restaurant. There are a number of substitutes available, though, including the mayonnaise substitute, Just Mayo, from Hampton Creek.
Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act 2004, eggs are one of the allergens that need to be specifically labeled on food products. This means all manufacturers will have to detail that egg products or eggs are present within their ingredients and this will be clearly identified on their packaging.
Even if you have discovered that you’re allergic to one form of an egg (e.g. the white or the yolk), it’s still highly advisable to avoid eggs completely as it isn’t possible to 100% separate the two, meaning there could still be traces in the foods that you are eating.
Hayden Porter writes about allergies, specifically egg allergies to raise awareness of this specific food allergy that many people are not aware of. Her articles appear on health, parenting, food and lifestyle blogs.