Eggs are everywhere. Not only are they served for breakfast, but they're also in all sorts of foods — from muffins to meatloaf. But what if you were allergic to eggs?
Babies sometimes will have an allergic reaction to eggs. If that happens, they can't eat eggs for a while. But the good news is that most kids outgrow this allergy by age 5 and can eat eggs with no problem after that.
What Is an Egg Allergy?
You probably know that some people are allergic to certain foods, like peanuts or shrimp. When a person has a food allergy, his or her body responds as if the food is a dangerous substance. This can happen to a little kid who eats eggs because his or her immune system isn't fully developed and can't handle the protein in eggs. (Most children who are allergic to eggs are allergic to the protein that's in the egg whites, but some react to the protein in the yolk.)
The immune system, which normally protects against germs and other problems, uses antibodies to fight the egg protein like it's a harmful invader. A baby who is allergic to eggs might feel sick or get a rash after eating eggs or any food containing eggs. The reaction could happen fast or it might take a few hours.
Signs and Symptoms
Here are symptoms someone might have due to an egg allergy:
- skin: hives, eczema, flushing, or swelling
- digestive system: belly pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or itching around the mouth
- respiratory system: runny nose, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
- cardiovascular system: rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, or heart problems
In rare cases, a person could have a very serious allergic reaction, which can cause anaphylaxis (say: an-uh-fih-lak-sis). Immediate medical attention is needed because the person may have breathing problems and a drop in blood pressure.
Anaphylaxis is treated with a medicine called epinephrine (say: ep-uh-nef-rin), which is given by injection (a shot). Kids who have a severe egg allergy will usually carry — or have a grown-up carry — an epinephrine injection, just in case.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Because this allergy is often first noticed in babies, a mom or dad might notice that the baby gets a rash or gets sick shortly after eating eggs. The answer is usually to avoid giving the baby eggs until he or she gets older and the doctor says it's OK to try eggs again.
If, as an older kid, you think that you have had a reaction to eggs, you should not eat eggs or anything containing eggs until you have seen a doctor. The doctor may decide to do a skin test. This is a common way to check for allergies to eggs, other foods, and substances.
The doctor will place a small drop of an extract on the skin and then gently prick the skin to introduce a small amount of the allergen into the skin. If a reddish, raised spot develops where the egg extract was dropped, the person has egg allergy.
The doctor may also test other foods or substances that cause allergies. In some cases, the doctor may take a small amount of your blood and test it, especially if the skin tests do not provide an answer.
It's important to remember that even though the doctor tests for food allergies by exposing you to a very small amount of the food, you should not try this at home! The best place for an allergy test is at the doctor's office, where they are specially trained and could give you medicine if you had a serious reaction.
How Is It Treated?
The best way to treat an egg allergy is to avoid eating eggs or any food containing eggs. Parents will have to help babies and young kids avoid eggs. Some older kids won't outgrow their egg allergy. These kids can learn to watch out for eggs and foods made with eggs.
Prevention is the name of the game with food allergies, so it's important for kids to learn:
- how to treat a reaction if they have one
- how to avoid eggs and egg-containing foods
Treating a Reaction
Kids who have an egg allergy should have a plan in case they accidentally eat eggs. Work with your parents, doctor, and school nurse to have a plan in place. It may involve having medicine on hand, such as an antihistamine, or in severe cases, epinephrine.
Kids who are allergic to eggs can become experts at avoiding eggs in the foods they eat. But it can be hard sometimes, so a kid should feel free to ask a parent or other grown-up for help in figuring out if a food is safe. For instance, egg substitutes are actually not OK for kids with egg allergies because they contain egg whites.
Here's how eggs, in their many forms, are listed on food labels:
- dried egg
- egg white
- egg white solids
- egg yolk
- egg solids
- powdered egg
- whole egg
The following ingredients also should be avoided if you have egg allergy:
- silici albuminate
Carry a List
If you have egg allergy, print out a list of these ingredients that's small enough to carry around with you as a reminder. It's a good idea to keep the list on a card in your pocket or backpack. Your mom or dad may want to carry one, too. It's tougher when there's no label to check, like when you're at a restaurant or friend's house. The best thing to do is ask before you eat!
If you like baked goods, such as cupcakes or brownies, you can tell your mom or dad to try this substitution in recipes that call for eggs:
- Use 1½ tablespoons (22.2 milliliters) oil and 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of baking powder for each egg.
When you're cutting out eggs, you'll want to make sure you're still getting protein from other foods. Some good ones are meat, poultry, fish, and legumes (beans and peanuts).
If you have more than one food allergy, you might want to talk to a dietitian — a person who knows a lot about eating healthy. But if it's just eggs you need to avoid, your mom or dad can help you eat right. In fact, you can be in egg-cellent health without eggs and that's no yolk!
Reviewed by: Nathan B. Richards, MD, and Sheelagh M. Stewart, RN, MPH
Date reviewed: October 2011