Egg allergy can cause a serious reaction in children and adults. Here's how to recognize egg allergy symptoms, and what to do if a severe reaction occurs.
Eggs are one of the most common allergy-causing foods for children.
Egg allergy symptoms usually occur a few minutes to a few hours after eating eggs or foods containing eggs. Signs and symptoms range from mild to severe and can include skin rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and vomiting or other digestive problems. Rarely, egg allergy can cause anaphylaxis — a life-threatening reaction.
Egg allergy can occur as early as infancy. Most children, but not all, outgrow their egg allergy before adolescence.
Egg allergy reactions vary from person to person and usually occur soon after exposure to egg. Egg allergy symptoms can include:
A severe allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening emergency that requires an immediate epinephrine (adrenaline) shot and a trip to the emergency room. Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms include:
Discuss with your doctor any reaction — no matter how mild — you or your child has to eggs. The severity of egg allergy reactions can vary each time one occurs, so even if a past reaction was mild, the next one could be more serious.
If your doctor thinks you or your child may be at risk of a severe reaction, he or she may prescribe an emergency epinephrine shot to be used if anaphylaxis occurs. The shot comes in a device that makes it easy to deliver, called an autoinjector.
See a doctor if you or your child has signs or symptoms of a food allergy shortly after eating eggs or an egg-containing product. If possible, see the doctor when the allergic reaction is occurring. This may help in making a diagnosis.
If you or your child has signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek immediate emergency treatment and use an autoinjector if one has been prescribed.
An immune system overreaction causes food allergies. For egg allergy, the immune system mistakenly identifies certain egg proteins as harmful. When you or your child comes in contact with egg proteins, immune system cells (antibodies) recognize them and signal the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals that cause allergic signs and symptoms.
Both egg yolks and egg whites contain proteins that can cause allergies, but allergy to egg whites is most common. It's possible for breast-fed infants to have an allergic reaction to egg proteins in breast milk if the mother consumes eggs.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing egg allergy:
The most significant complication of egg allergy is having a severe allergic reaction requiring an epinephrine injection and emergency treatment.
The same immune system reaction that causes egg allergy can also cause other conditions. If you or your child has egg allergy, you or your child may be at increased risk of:
Here are some things you can do to avoid an allergic reaction, and to keep it from getting worse if one does occur.
Unfortunately, even if a food is labeled egg-free it may still contain some egg proteins. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
Foods that contain eggs can include:
Several terms indicate that egg products have been used in manufacturing processed foods, including:
Another potential source of exposure is cross-contamination in home-prepared dishes or meals, especially when you're eating in other people's homes where they may not be aware of the risk.
Some shots to prevent illness (vaccines) contain egg proteins. In some people, these vaccines pose a risk of triggering an allergic reaction.
To diagnose egg allergy, your doctor will use several approaches, including ruling out other conditions that could be causing symptoms. In many cases, what seems to be egg allergy is actually caused by food intolerance, which is generally less serious than food allergy and doesn't involve the immune system.
Your doctor takes a medical history and conducts a physical exam. He or she may also recommend one or more of the following tests:
The only way to prevent egg allergy symptoms is to avoid eggs or egg products. Some people with egg allergies, however, can tolerate foods that contain well-cooked eggs, such as baked goods.
Medications such as antihistamines may reduce signs and symptoms of a mild egg allergy. These drugs can be taken after exposure to eggs. They aren't effective for preventing an anaphylactic egg reaction or for treating a severe reaction.
You may need to carry an emergency epinephrine injector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others) at all times. Anaphylaxis requires an epinephrine shot, a trip to the emergency room and observation for a time to be sure symptoms don't return.
Learn how to use the autoinjector. If your child has one, make sure caregivers have access to it and know how to use it. If your child is old enough, make sure he or she understands how to use it. Replace the autoinjector before its expiration date.
Most children eventually outgrow egg allergy. Talk to your child's doctor about frequency of testing to see whether eggs still cause symptoms. It may be unsafe for you to test your child's reaction to eggs at home, particularly if your child has had a severe reaction to eggs in the past.
You'll likely begin by seeing your family doctor or pediatrician. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in allergic disorders (allergist-immunologist). Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
For egg allergy, some basic questions to ask the doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
The doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:
If you or your child has mild allergy symptoms after eating something containing eggs, taking an antihistamine may help ease the discomfort. But be on the lookout for worsening symptoms that might require medical attention. If you or your child has a severe reaction, seek immediate medical care. Call 911 or your local emergency number.