Understanding Egg Allergies
What is Egg Allergy?
While egg allergy can affect just about anyone, this type of allergy is more common in children. Fortunately, approximately half of all children with egg allergy will outgrow the condition between the ages of 3-5.
When a person is allergic to eggs, the body’s immune system has an exaggerated reaction to proteins in eggs. The immune system releases numerous chemicals to protect the body from the substance which it mistakes it as harmful invader. Egg whites cause the majority of allergic reactions, whereas egg yolks only account for a small percentage of reactions.
Egg Allergy Symptoms
Allergic reactions to eggs may occur within a few minutes up to several hours after eating eggs. In general, reactions affect the skin, the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. When a person has an allergic reaction to eggs that affect the skin, hives or eczema may appear or redness and swelling around the mouth. If the gastrointestinal tract is affected, the reaction may cause stomach cramps, diarrhea (mild or severe), nausea or vomiting. When the respiratory tract is affected by an allergic reaction to eggs, the individual may experience mild symptoms such as: runny nose, itchy watery eyes and sneezing or more serious symptoms such as asthma with coughing and wheezing.
While it is not common, some people with egg allergy will have an anaphylactic reaction. An anaphylactic reaction is the most severe allergic reaction which can cause swelling in the airways leading to the lungs, a dangerous drop in blood pressure, shock and even death.
Egg Allergy Effects on Overall Health
Eggs are an excellent source of high quality protein and Vitamin A, but they are also rich with cholesterol and heavy on the fat. One egg yolk contains 5 grams of fat (2 saturated) and around 215 milligrams of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults limit their daily intake of cholesterol to 300 milligrams, 200 for individuals who are susceptible to heart disease.
While the yolk is the unhealthiest part of an egg, egg whites may also have a drawback or two. True, egg whites do contain protein and they are fat-free and low in calories, but they contain only very small quantities of nutrients. In addition, raw egg whites contain a substance called “avidin” which blocks Biotin from being absorbed. Biotin is an important vitamin that aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. When opting for egg whites, it is important to make sure they are cooked thoroughly in order to destroy the anti-biotin factor.
In addition, it is possible that fresh eggs may contain the bacteria Salmonella enteritidis. Salmonella is typically found in the yolk, but there is a slight possibility for it to be in raw egg whites. To avoid consuming salmonella, it’s best to avoid eating undercooked or raw eggs and egg whites.
Keep in mind that many foods are made with raw eggs such as milkshakes & smoothies and Caesar salad dressing. Homemade eggnog, homemade ice cream, homemade hollandaise sauce and homemade mayonnaise may also be made with raw eggs.
The good news is—there are plenty of healthy, low cholesterol foods out there that are rich in Vitamin A such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and high-quality protein such as lentils, chicken breast and tofu. So it’s true, we can all live without eggs. Unfortunately, some of the things we eat on a daily basis and many of our favorite foods may contain eggs.
Egg Allergy Diagnosis
Testing for egg allergy is much like testing for any other food allergy. A doctor or allergy specialists will ask a series of questions and perform either a skin prick test (SPT) or a blood test (RAST). If further testing is required to be 100% sure a person’s symptoms are caused by eggs, doctors may use elimination-challenge testing.
Egg Allergy Treatment
The only way to avoid an allergic reaction to eggs is to avoid all eggs and egg products completely. As of January 2006, identifying common food allergens became much easier than it was years before. Today, manufacturers of foods sold in the United States are required to list (on their labels) whether a food contains any of the most common food allergens. When reading labels the following statements should be obvious: contains egg ingredients, made using egg ingredients and made in a facility that also processes eggs. While these statements make it easier to identify foods that contain eggs, it’s still in your best interest to familiarize yourself with other names for eggs and the types of foods that may contain them.
If you ever find yourself in a place where listing common allergens on food labels is, well, uncommon, it’s best to memorize the following “other” names for eggs:
Foods or substances that may contain eggs or egg products include: binder, coagulant, emulsifier, flavorings or seasonings, glazes, icing, lecithin, white wine and root beer.
Common sources of eggs include:
Specialty coffee and coffee flavoring
There are several alternatives to eggs both for baking and for meals. Tofu (mashed, scrambled or whipped) can be used as a substitute for omelets and scrambled eggs as well as for baking. Commercial egg replacement powders, which can be found at just about any health food store, can be used for cooking and baking as well. There are also a wide variety of alternative binding agents that can be used for cooking and baking including:
Plain silken tofu
Sweet white sauce (soya milk, vegan margarine, sugar and corn flour)
*Tip: mix flax seeds and water in a pot and boil for a few minutes. The resulting substance will have the same consistency as egg whites.