Egg allergies are one of the most common food allergies in children, second only to cow’s milk. About 0.2 percent of Americans have an egg allergy, most of them children. Fortunately, more than two-thirds of children with egg allergies outgrow their condition by their teens. Egg allergies are usually not as severe as peanut allergies, although severe cases of anaphylaxis do occur. Instead, egg allergies are associated with skin reactions. In fact, egg is the most common food allergy of children with eczema.
Several proteins, including ovomucoid, obalbumin, lysozyme and apovitillin, cause most egg allergies. When one or more of these proteins are present, the allergic child’s immune system overreacts by releasing antibodies such as histamines, which in turn cause the allergic reaction symptoms. It’s usually the egg whites that contain these allergenic proteins; however, because the egg whites cannot be completely separated from the yolk, no part of the egg is safe for kids with egg allergies to eat. In some instances, a child with an allergy to eggs will go on to develop an allergy to chicken as well.
Egg White Intolerance
Egg whites are known as histamine liberators, meaning they cause the immune system to release histamine cells, even if antibodies against egg white protein are not present. For some people, contact with egg whites triggers the release of histamines and an allergy-like response. Without the presence of IgE antibodies, however, this condition is technically a food intolerance, not an allergy.
Symptoms of egg white intolerance include abdominal pain, diarrhea or allergy-like symptoms. In severe cases, egg white intolerance can cause an anaphylactoid reaction, a potentially fatal reaction that acts just like anaphylaxis. Like an egg allergy, people with egg white intolerance must avoid egg products, although some are able to handle small amounts without any symptoms. Those with very severe egg white intolerance, however, must practice strict avoidance.
Foods to Avoid
There is no cure yet for egg and other food allergies, and there is no medical treatment, with the exception of antihistamines and epinephrine, which only help suppress an allergic reaction. Currently, the only effective treatment is strict avoidance of all foods containing egg or egg protein. Like dairy, wheat and soy, eggs are a staple part of the modern American diet, with over 6 billion produced every month, so it takes vigilance to avoid exposure. Any kind of egg dish is obviously off-limits, as are many baked goods. Traces of egg protein may also occur in some surprising items so it’s important to carefully read all labels. Common sources of egg include:
- Dried egg
- Cholesterol-free egg substitute
- Meringue pie
- Ice cream
Note that any food allergy, even mild cases, has the potential to become severe, and even fatal; it’s important that every child with an allergy to eggs has an EpiPen or other epinephrine injector readily available.
Many vaccines contain trace amounts of egg protein, worrying many parents who have kids with egg allergies. Today, many manufacturers label the amount of egg protein that their vaccines carry, but not all do. However, studies show that the MMR vaccine and most others are safe, even in children with very severe egg allergies. Seasonal flu vaccines may not be as safe for children with egg allergies, though adverse reactions are rare. It is therefore recommended that parents take their kids to a practitioner who is experienced in treating any potential adverse effects, just in case. Generally, doctors agree that the benefits of flu and other disease vaccination outweigh the risks to children with egg allergies.
Egg allergies may be the second-most common food allergy, but the majority of kids with egg allergies can at least look forward to outgrowing it. In the meantime, however, and for those who do not outgrow their condition, taking extra precautions around various foods and getting advice from an allergist will go a long way in making this food allergy more manageable.