An egg allergy occurs when the immune system interprets egg proteins as harmful substances. Trying to defend against these “invaders”, the immune system overreacts and causes an inflammatory and allergic reaction.
Although it can occur in people of all ages, children suffer from it the most. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, it is the second most common food allergy in young children after cow’s milk.
More specifically, it affects an estimated 0.9% of all children and 1.3% of children under the age of 5. How is it recognized and what are the risks? We will tell you below.
What is an egg allergy and why does it occur?
An egg allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to the proteins in the egg white or yolk and recognizes them as harmful to the body.
It is mediated by immunoglobulin E (IgE ), which is an antibody that binds to antigens —in this case, egg proteins—and triggers a response in the immune system. Thus, when an allergic person ingests egg or egg-containing products, their body releases histamine and other chemicals that trigger an inflammatory response.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, from a simple rash to anaphylaxis (in rare cases). Fortunately, 70% of affected children usually recover from it after the age of 16.
A study by the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology shows that including eggs early in the diet can reduce children’s risk of developing this allergy.
Egg allergy symptoms
The clinical picture of egg allergy can develop shortly after eating the food or within two hours. It often has similar features to other food allergies. It causes skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms such as:
- Diffuse urticaria ( hives that cause severe itching).
- Itching of the mouth and tongue.
- Angioedema (swelling under the skin).
- Stomach ache.
- Drying out.
- Nasal congestion and snot.
- Chest tightness or shortness of breath.
When the allergic reaction is severe, it can trigger a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. In this case, immediate medical help is needed, as adrenaline treatment is necessary. The symptoms are as follows:
- Severe shortness of breath.
- Stomach ache.
- Increased heart rate.
- Dizziness, drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness.
In addition to anaphylaxis, the reaction of the immune system caused by an egg allergy can lead to other health complications . The most common are the following:
- Allergies to other foods, such as milk, peanuts or soy.
- Allergies to dust mites, pollen or pet dander.
- Atopic dermatitis.
It is very important to be aware of the symptoms of an egg allergy, no matter how mild they are. Their severity may vary from patient to patient. And even if the symptoms are mild at first, they can later become more serious.
When the doctor considers that the risk of anaphylaxis is high, it may be appropriate to give an emergency adrenaline injection.
Allergy in children
Egg allergy is considered a childhood disease, as it usually occurs in children under 5 years old. The first symptoms are usually noticed when eggs are added to the child’s complementary food.
In most cases, allergic children are sensitized to the allergens contained in the egg white, but not to the allergens contained in the yolk. Despite this, the condition usually improves in 70 percent of cases before puberty.
In the rest, the allergy continues into adulthood. Special attention must be paid to these cases, as the risk of serious reactions also increases.
Allergy in adults
Adult-onset egg allergy is extremely rare. It is often associated with other previous food allergies. However, cases of sudden allergy without previous intolerance have been reported.
However, the allergy most often starts in childhood and continues into adulthood. The prognosis in these cases is not very good, as the risk of serious reactions is high.
A study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences shows that egg yolk protein allergy is more common in adulthood.
When should you consult a doctor?
It is important to see a doctor if clinical symptoms of allergy appear after eating eggs or egg-containing products. If possible, a specialist should be consulted as soon as a reaction occurs. This way, the professional can observe the symptoms and arrive at a diagnosis more easily.
Diagnosis of egg allergy
Making a diagnosis of egg allergy begins with a detailed examination of the patient’s medical history and physical examination by the doctor. After that, he suggests in vitro or in vivo allergy tests to confirm the condition.
According to the Pediatric Clinics of North America, these tests include:
- Measurement of food-specific IgE antibodies.
- Skin prick test.
- Epicutaneous test.
- Exposure test.
In connection with the review of the anamnesis, all information about egg intake in the diet and possible subsequent reactions should be clarified in detail. At this stage, information about egg allergies or other food allergies that have occurred in the family should also be given.
Treatment of egg allergy
As with other food allergies, the primary treatment for an egg allergy is to avoid eggs and products containing them. The doctor will also suggest an action plan against the allergy if it occurs. It includes the following actions:
- Antihistamines. These are available without a prescription, and in milder cases they can calm the symptoms. They won’t help if it’s an anaphylactic reaction.
- Adrenaline injection in an emergency. As mentioned above, this injection is used if symptoms of anaphylaxis occur. It is used to relax the muscles of the airways and constrict blood vessels.
Oral systematic sensitization treatment
Since egg is a very common food, found in many foods and even medicines, it is difficult to avoid it completely. Because of this, oral sensitization therapy has been developed.
In it, very small doses of the food in question are given and the dose is gradually increased so that the body adapts to it. It can last from weeks to months and is effective in up to 70% of cases.
A review in the Cochrane Library: Cochrane Reviews found that this treatment has great potential to increase egg tolerance.
It must always be monitored by a doctor, as allergy symptoms may develop. Patient and family education is key to controlling reactions and making this treatment successful.
Products that generally contain egg
Be aware that many commercial products contain egg. That’s why it’s important to check package labels as part of strategies to avoid egg allergy symptoms. Eggs are often found in the following foods:
- Bakery products.
- Industrial ultra-processed foods.
- Desserts with milk.
- Sweets and candies.
- Sauces and dips.
- Coffee creamers.
Can people with egg allergies eat fried eggs?
The short answer to this question is: maybe. So far, it has been found that people with egg allergies often tolerate baked goods containing eggs.
According to NIH Research Matters, this is because the high temperature of frying helps break down allergy-causing egg proteins.
For this reason, this frying method is often considered in oral sensitization therapy. With careful monitoring, it seems safe for children to eat fried egg products. A doctor’s supervision is still necessary.
Egg allergy, one of the most common food allergies
Egg allergy is the second most common food allergy in childhood. Knowing its symptoms is crucial so that it can be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner. It should not be ignored that it can lead to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
Fortunately, in more than 70 percent of cases, it disappears after childhood. In all cases, it is recommended to avoid the presence of eggs and egg derivatives in the diet. Only if the doctor suggests sensitization therapy, it is possible to gradually include this ingredient in the diet.