Q. What is an egg allergy?
Egg is the second most common food allergy in the U.S., especially among young children. In fact, as much as 3.2% of children under the age of 3 may be allergic to eggs, with only 68% of them outgrowing the allergy by age 16. That adds up to a whole lot of egg-allergic teens as well. Exacerbating the problem, 75% of kids with egg allergies are estimated to be allergic to peanuts as well.
In addition to being one of the most common food allergies, egg allergies are among those that can cause the most severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “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 inflammation, and vomiting or other digestive problems.” For those with the allergy, even a trace amount can suffice to cause a severe reaction so it is important to avoid all foods that may have been cross-contaminated with egg even if egg is not listed as an ingredient in them. You should also speak to your doctor about whether he believes it would be appropriate for you to care an EPI-pen to use in case of a severe reaction. If you believe you may be having an allergic reaction, seek medical attention. If you believe the reaction may be life-threatening, dial 911 immediately.
Q. Can you have an egg intolerance without being allergic to it?
Yes – there are a number of reasons that your body may be intolerant to hen's and/or other birds' eggs. For instance, egg whites are high in histamine levels and may therefore cause digestive upset and other symptoms for people with histamine intolerance. Others may find that they are able to eat egg whites no problem – but have digestive upsets with egg yolks. Food intolerances are different physiologically from food allergies but can have very real ramifications nonetheless. If you think you may have an egg intolerance, speak to your doctor. He or she may recommend that you try going on an egg elimination diet or "food challenge" for a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve. If so, check out our Food Challenge FAQs.
Q. How can I avoid eggs?
While it may be obvious to pass up the scrambled eggs for breakfast, it is important to remember that many foods are made with egg inside them. These include baked goods but also hamburgers, vegetable pancakes and other foods. Thus it is important to read the labels on pre-packaged goods carefully, and also to inquire any time you are eating foods prepared by someone else, whether at a restaurant or at someone’s home. Take a look at our guide to Getting Started Egg-Free and our list of egg substitutes you can use in cooking, and search our site for a growing list of egg-free recipes.
Q. Do I have to avoid all egg? What about products manufactured on equipment shared with egg?
That depends. Because egg allergies can cause such severe reactions, anyone who has or thinks they might have an egg allergy should not risk eating anything that might be made with or have come into contact with egg. That includes anything with egg inside it but also anything manufactured on equipment - or even, depending on your level of sensitivity - in a facility shared with products containing eggs.
However, if your issue with egg stems not from an allergy but from an intolerance, you may be able to tolerate some amount of egg, or may be able to eat egg if it is prepared in certain ways. For instance, some may be intolerant only to egg yolks and not to egg whites, or to hen’s eggs but not for instance to quail eggs – or the other way around. Likewise, some may be able to tolerate egg if it is thoroughly cooked within a baked good, but not if it is more loosely cooked as in scrambled eggs or pancakes. These are first and foremost questions for your doctor, and you should never experiment with how much you can safely eat without getting your doctor's advice first.