Eggs are known for being high in protein and easy to eat in a variety of different ways. According to a 2019 Food & Wine article, the average American consumes 279 eggs a year. If you’re used to eating eggs but have noticed a change in how your body reacts after eating them, it’s possible that you might have an egg allergy.
As common as egg allergies are, most people don’t know much about them. We’ve put this article together to cover everything from egg allergy symptoms, treatments, and the science behind the body’s allergic reaction.
How Do You Know If You Have an Egg Allergy?
If you have an egg allergy, you can experience symptoms if you consume just the yolk (the orangey-yellow part or the center of an egg), just the whites (the viscous liquid in the egg), or the whole egg.
If you have an egg allergy, your body treats the egg as an allergen or a foreign substance. To defend itself the body makes IgE, an antibody, which triggers your immune system to start the allergic reaction. These reactions usually occur within 2 hours of eating a food allergen. There are more delayed (6-48 hours after exposure) reactions caused by other parts of the immune system which can symptoms such as eczema or inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Egg Allergy Symptoms
Egg allergy occurs most often in children. These usually start between 6 and 15 months of age. Most often, children will grow out of their egg allergy before adolescence. However, there are cases where people continue to have egg allergies into adulthood and rare cases of adult-onset egg allergies exist. The most typical symptoms of an egg allergy include skin reactions, redness of the skin, or hives. However, symptoms can be more severe, including:
- Blood pressure decrease, which can be deadly
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Nose itchiness and runniness (rhinitis)
- Sneezing and congestion
- Diarrhea and stomach cramps and pain
- Nausea and vomiting, sometimes repeatedly
- Tight feeling in the throat that obstructs inhaling and breathing
- Red, teary, itchy eyes
- Wheezing and coughing
- Hives and swollen skin
What Happens If You Have an Egg Allergy?
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), of all the food allergens, an allergy to eggs occurs in people quite frequently, usually during infanthood and childhood. If you or your child has what you believe may be an egg allergy, schedule an appointment with an allergist immediately. During your appointment with the allergist, they will recommend one or several tests to confirm an egg allergy.
Egg Allergy Tests
One means of diagnosing an egg allergy is through a blood test. During this test, the allergist will look for traces of IgE, which your immune system will produce if you have a food allergy. A lack of these antibodies may rule out egg allergy. There is also specialized IgE testing can predict severity of reactions and likelihood that the allergy can be outgrown.
Your allergist may also order a skin test, where they take some of the egg allergen and insert it into the skin with a needle. If you develop a hive at the injection site you likely have an egg allergy.
If the results of these preliminary tests are unclear, the allergist may ask to come back in and take a food challenge. During a food challenge, the doctor will start by giving you a small amount of egg to consume, waiting for a reaction to occur. More egg is given if no reactions occur. Food challenges should only be performed by a doctor in the event that a serious reaction occurs. If your symptoms become too severe, your allergist will administer an epinephrine shot.
Egg Allergy Treatments
When your allergist diagnoses an egg allergy in you or your child, they’ll then recommend an appropriate treatment. The most effective option is to refrain from eating eggs. Elimination of egg dishes is easier than avoiding products that have egg as one of many ingredients. Similar to dairy products, eggs are in many foods. You’ll have to get really good at reading nutritional labels to avoid eggs in foods going forward.
What to Be Careful of If You Have an Egg Allergy
Cooking at Home
When cooking at home, skipping eggs is easier, as you have control over which ingredients go into your food. According to the ACAAI, baked goods and other cooked foods with eggs are sometimes okay for egg allergy sufferers to eat because the eggs are cooked. This is not the case with everyone who has an egg allergy, and you should consult your allergist before consuming eggs.
If you or your child are allergic to just the egg whites or yolks, the ACAAI recommends avoiding eggs or egg-based dishes. It’s not easy to separate these two parts of the egg cleanly and completely.
Shopping at the Grocery Store
You may run into more trouble when you go to the grocery store. Eggs can be sneakily included in foods such as meatloaf, salad dressing, and canned soups, even if you don’t necessarily taste the egg.
The ACAAI says that, per the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, if a food has eggs as an ingredient it must be listed on the label.
Even if you only have one person with an egg allergy at home, it’s still a good idea that the whole household avoids egg-based food products. A young child might not be able to tell the difference between foods that have eggs in them and those that don’t, so it’s important to prevent confusion.
Dining Out at Restaurants
The biggest gray area in avoiding eggs is dining out at a restaurant. You can still enjoy this experience, but be prepared to do your research and ask a lot of questions. Since you can’t see the ingredients of the items on the menu, if you suspect any food might have eggs, make sure you ask about it. Even a salad, which may seem like a relatively foolproof dining option, can be covered in a dressing that uses egg.
Given how common egg allergies are, most restaurants will want to accommodate you, offering suggestions of what you can safely eat.
Safe Egg Allergy Substitutes
When cooking and baking, eggs serve many purposes. In some dishes, eggs boost the flavor or help give baked goods that golden baked finish. Some recipes use eggs as a leavening agent, creating air pockets in a dish that gives the food a nice puffy appearance. Eggs can even act as a binder, keeping foods like meatballs intact when they’re prepped and cooked. All to say, you will need to research substitutes that can do the different jobs of an egg.
If you have to give up eggs, you’re not completely out of luck. Here are several substitutes you can use for those purposes that are completely egg-free.
This ingredient often comes in powder form. By moistening a tablespoon of soy lecithin, that’s the equivalent of one egg yolk in many recipes.
You get both the leavening properties and the moisture of an egg with carbonated water (and without the calories). If your recipe calls for an egg, you can use 1/4th cup of carbonated water instead.
Provided you or your child aren’t allergic to dairy, yogurt is a smart substitute for eggs. Make sure you skip the flavored varieties to keep your recipe as pure as it’s intended. Add 1/4th a cup of yogurt per each egg needed in the recipe. If you don’t have any yogurt handy, buttermilk in the same quantities is sufficient.
For desserts especially, a pureed banana can replace eggs. You need 1/4th a cup of banana per required egg. Some people who swap out eggs for bananas do say that your desserts might have a banana flavor. Pureed avocado and pumpkin work just as well as bananas for these applications, and their flavors aren’t nearly as noticeable.
Another form of soy, tofu can replace egg in your savory dishes. You want silken tofu specifically, as it’s nice and soft due to how much water it carries. Puree the tofu and add 1/4th cup for each egg in your recipe.
You can also try an egg replacer, which includes ingredients like tapioca starch or potato starch. Vegans commonly use egg replacers. You may have to mix ingredients to make the egg replacer, typically warm water (about 3 tablespoons) with the egg replacer powder (1.5 teaspoons). That replaces a single egg.
The Flu Vaccine and Egg Allergies – What’s the Connection?
Every year, you safeguard your health and that of your family by getting a flu shot. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), many flu shots have egg protein within them, often in minuscule quantities.
According to the AAAI, and many other medical institutes, it’s safe for people with egg allergies to receive a flu shot. This conclusion was based on recent studies showing that individuals who had an egg allergy safely received a flu vaccine.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have an allergic reaction to the shot itself, which is more common in children. The CDC notes these reactions can include symptoms like dizziness, increased heart rate, weakness, pale skin, hives, lip and eye swelling, wheezing, hoarseness, and breathing issues. These symptoms are very rare (1.3 cases for every 1 million shots) but would require immediate medical care.
Egg Allergy FAQs
How Common Are Egg Allergies?
Egg allergies are common in younger children, occurring in 2 percent of the pediatric population. Egg allergies are less common for adults, although there are adults who remain allergic to eggs into adulthood or experience adult-onset egg allergies.
Can You Outgrow an Egg Allergy?
According to the ACAII, up to 70% of children outgrow their egg allergy before reaching adulthood. Egg allergies most commonly occur between the ages of 6 and 15 months, typically resulting in mild to moderate symptoms like skin reactions, redness of the face, and hives around the mouth.
Can You Suddenly Become Allergic to Eggs?
While not common, there are cases where adults develop on-set egg allergies. If your family already has a history of food allergies, your chance of having a food allergy increases, including egg allergies.
Is There a Cure for Egg Allergies?
Currently, there is no cure for egg allergies, which is also the case for all food allergies. Your best means of defense against allergic reactions is to avoid the consumption of eggs or food containing eggs. Your allergist may also prescribe an epinephrine shot to use in case eggs are accidentally consumed.