What Is an Egg Allergy?
When someone has an egg allergy, the body's immune system, which normally fights infections, overreacts to proteins in egg. If the person drinks or eats a product that contains egg, the body thinks these proteins are harmful invaders. The immune system responds by working very hard to fight off the invader. This causes an allergic reaction.
About 2% of children are allergic to eggs. Luckily, most will outgrow the allergy by age 16.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of an Egg Allergy?
When someone with an egg allergy has something with egg in it, the body releases chemicals like histamine . This can cause symptoms such as:
- trouble breathing
- throat tightness
- itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
- red spots
- a drop in blood pressure, causing lightheadedness or loss of consciousness (passing out)
Allergic reactions to egg can vary. Sometimes the same person can react differently at different times. Some reactions to egg are mild and involve only one part of the body, like hives on the skin. But, even when someone has had only a mild reaction in the past, the next reaction can be severe.
Egg allergies can cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis might start with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but can quickly get worse. The person may have trouble breathing or pass out. More than one part of the body might be involved. If it isn't treated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
How Is an Egg Allergy Diagnosed?
An egg allergy is diagnosed with skin tests or blood tests. A skin test (also called a scratch test) is the most common allergy test. Skin testing lets a doctor see in about 15 minutes if a child is sensitive to egg.
With this test, the doctor or nurse:
- puts a tiny bit of egg extract on the skin
- pricks the outer layer of skin or makes a small scratch on the skin
If the area swells up and get red (like a mosquito bite), the child is sensitive to eggs.
A blood test can be used if a skin test can't be done. It takes a few days/weeks to get the results of blood tests, though, and these tests are not perfect. It's important to have your child checked by a health care provider who has experience with allergy testing.
How Is an Allergic Reaction to Egg Treated?
If your child has an egg allergy, always keep two epinephrine auto-injectors available in case of a severe reaction. An epinephrine auto-injector is a prescription medicine that comes in a small, easy-to-carry container. It's easy to use. Your doctor will show you how. Kids who are old enough can be taught how to give themselves the injection.
The doctor can also give you an allergy action plan, which helps you prepare for, recognize, and treat an allergic reaction. Share it with anyone who takes care of your child, including relatives, school officials, and parents at play dates. Also consider having your child wear a medical alert bracelet.
Every second counts in an allergic reaction. If your child starts having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth or throat or difficulty breathing, give the epinephrine auto-injector right away. Also give it right away if the symptoms involve two different parts of the body, like hives with vomiting. Then call 911 and take your child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision because even if the worst seems to have passed, a second wave of serious symptoms can happen.
What Can Parents Do?
If your child has an egg allergy, help him or her avoid eating egg. Read food labels carefully because ingredients can change, and egg can be found in unexpected places.
Some foods look OK from the ingredient list, but while being made they can come in contact with egg. This is called cross-contamination. Look for advisory statements such as "may contain egg," "processed in a facility that also processes egg," or "manufactured on equipment also used for egg." Not all companies label for cross-contamination, so if in doubt, call or email the company to be sure.
Anyone preparing your child's food should wash their hands with soap and water before touching it. Your child should always wash his or her hands before eating. If soap and water aren't available, use hand-cleaning wipes. But don't use hand sanitizer gels or sprays. Hand sanitizers only get rid of germs — they don't get rid of egg proteins.
Keep foods that contain egg in a separate part of your kitchen so they don't contaminate your child's food. When preparing food, wash dishes and utensils with dishwashing soap and hot water to remove any traces of egg.
When eating away from home, make sure you have an epinephrine auto-injector with you and that it hasn't expired. Also, tell the people preparing or serving your child's food about the egg allergy. Sometimes, you may want to bring food with you that you know is safe. Don't eat at the restaurant if the chef, manager, or owner seems uncomfortable with your request for a safe meal.
What Else Should I Know?
In the past, anyone with an egg allergy needed to talk to a doctor about whether getting the flu vaccine was safe because it is grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that kids with egg allergy aren't at higher risk for a reaction to the flu vaccine. This is probably because the levels of egg allergen in the vaccine are so tiny that it's safe even for those with a severe egg allergy. The flu vaccine is recommended for all kids older than 6 months of age during flu season.
Still, a child with an egg allergy (who has had symptoms more severe than hives) should get the flu vaccine in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue. That way, the health care provider can watch for and treat any reaction.