What Are Egg Allergies?
People who are allergic to chicken eggs may also be allergic to other types of eggs, including goose, duck, turkey, or quail eggs.
Eggs are one of the eight most common foods known to cause severe allergy attacks, second only to milk allergies. Egg allergies are more common in children than adults, and most kids will outgrow their egg allergy during adolescence.
An egg allergy is a type of immune response triggered by ingesting the proteins in egg whites or yolks. And while you can have an allergic reaction to the proteins in both the whites and the yolk, an allergy to egg whites is most common. The immune system normally reacts to allergens by protecting us from any kind of a negative response. However, the immune response of an individual with a food allergy is oversensitive. When faced with an allergen, the system reacts by releasing substances that cause allergy symptoms.
Even the smallest amount of eggs can cause an allergic reaction, so it’s important to know how to avoid exposure to products containing eggs and be able to spot the symptoms of an allergic reaction if one is ingested.
Egg Allergy Symptoms
The most common cause of egg allergy is direct contact by eating the whites and/or yolks in an egg. People with an egg allergy may experience an allergic reaction anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after consuming the allergen.
Most Common Symptoms of Egg Allergies
- Skin reactions, such as swelling, hives, a rash, or eczema
- Respiratory problems such as wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Throat tightness
- Stomach pain including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Runny nose, sneezing, red/watery eyes
In severe cases, an allergy to eggs can also result in anaphylaxis, a sudden, severe, and life-threatening allergic reaction that can involve several areas of the body. If you have an egg allergy, it is recommended to keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times. An epinephrine injection is the only treatment for anaphylaxis.
There are several steps involved in testing for and diagnosing an egg allergy. Consult your allergist or physician for further information.
Avoiding Exposure to Egg Products
Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction. So, in order to prevent an allergic reaction to the proteins found in egg whites and yolk, you must avoid eggs in all forms. Since eggs are included in so many food products, it’s critical that you read all labels and ask if eggs (in any form) are being used to prepare food you may eat.
This list contains some of the more common food items you will find eggs in:
- Egg substitutes, egg solids, egg powder, dried egg
- Baked goods
- Breaded foods
- Processed meats
- Puddings and custard
- Salad dressings
- Ice cream
- The foam or topping on specialty coffee and bar drinks
Additionally, eggs products have been used in manufacturing processed foods. Make sure to look for these terms when reading labels:
- Words starting with “ova” or “ovu”
Special Considerations for Egg Allergies
If an allergy to eggs is diagnosed, you may also be at an increased risk of allergies to other things including soy, milk, peanuts, pet danders, dust mites, grass pollen, skin reactions such as atopic dermatitis, and asthma. Talk with your doctor about being tested for some of these other allergies.
The other issue facing people with an egg allergy is cross-contact. Cross-contact can happen when a food is exposed to eggs during processing or handling. For example, a kitchen tool (i.e., a spoon) that was previously used to stir cookie dough is now being used to scoop up fruit. Even though the fruit salad does not contain egg products, the spoon (with eggs on it) has now introduced the allergen into the food.
Regulations Related to Egg Allergies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is primarily responsible for enforcing the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which requires that food labels clearly identify the food source names of any ingredients that are one of the major food allergens (including tree nuts) or contain any protein derived from a major food allergen.
The law further explains that the name of the food source of a major food allergen must appear in parentheses following the name of the ingredient or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement.
Unfortunately, the FALCPA’s labeling requirement does not apply to products that may be contaminated due to cross-contact. The FDA does not regulate statements such as: “may contain eggs,” or “manufactured on shared equipment with eggs” or “manufactured in the same facility as eggs” so there is no guarantee that products labeled as such are safe.
Medications and vaccinations may have ingredients derived from eggs. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has updated their guidelines on egg allergy and receipt of influenza (flu) vaccines. Based on new recommendations, people with egg allergies no longer need to be observed for an allergic reaction for 30 minutes after receiving the flu vaccine. People with a severe allergic reaction to egg can now be vaccinated in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting under the supervision of a health care provider who is able to recognize and treat an adverse reaction.