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.
Most egg allergies are in kids. Usually, they outgrow it by age 16, but not all do.
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 . The release of these chemicals can cause someone to have symptoms like:
- trouble breathing
- throat tightness
- belly pain
- 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 can begin 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 someone 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 person 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 be checked by a health care provider who has experience with allergy testing.
How Is an Allergic Reaction to Egg Treated?
If you have an egg allergy, always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors 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.
The doctor can also give you an allergy action plan, which helps you prepare for, recognize, and treat an allergic reaction. Share the plan with anyone else who needs to know, such as relatives, school officials, and coaches. Also consider wearing a medical alert bracelet.
Every second counts in an allergic reaction. If you start having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth or throat or trouble breathing, use the epinephrine auto-injector right away. Also use it right away if your symptoms involve two different parts of the body, like hives with vomiting. Then call 911 and have someone take you to the emergency room. You need to be under medical supervision because even if the worst seems to have passed, a second wave of serious symptoms can happen.
What Can I Do?
If you have an egg allergy, 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.
You and anyone else preparing your food should wash hands well with soap and water before touching it. Always wash your hands before eating. If you don't have soap and water, you can 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.
At home, keep foods that contain egg in a separate part of your kitchen so they don't contaminate your 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, keep your epinephrine auto-injector with you and make sure that it hasn't expired. Also, tell the people preparing or serving your 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 people 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 everyone older than 6 months of age during flu season.
Still, unless your allergic reaction to eggs involves only hives, get the flu shot in a doctor's office, where the health care provider can watch for and treat any reaction.