Overcoming an egg allergy

May 1, 2013

Most children outgrow their egg allergy before they hit adolescence, but in some instances it can continue into adulthood. Symptoms can be mild to severe and include: hives, skin rashes, nasal inflammation, and vomiting or other digestive problems.

All food allergies are caused by an immune system overreaction. The immune system mistakes certain egg proteins as harmful. Whenever someone comes in contact with egg proteins, immune system cells recognize them and signal the immune system to release histamine and chemicals that cause allergic symptoms and signs. Egg yolks and egg whites can both cause allergies, but allergy to egg whites is the most common.

Even if a food is labeled egg-free it still could contain some allergy causing egg proteins. Foods that contain eggs can include: marshmallows, mayonnaise, meringue, sauces, frostings, processed meat (like meatballs and meatloaf), pudding, salad dressing, pastas, root beer, and some alcoholic drinks. Nonfood products that contain egg products can include: medications, shampoos, cosmetics, and finger paints.

The study at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that by eating small amounts of egg every day for many months lowered the number of allergic reactions in 75 percent of egg-allergic children; 28 percent were able to incorporate egg into their regular diets after two years on the treatment. The intent of the study was to develop a new treatment for egg allergy since the only option so far has been to avoid eggs altogether.

The study enrolled 55 children and adolescents between the ages of five and eighteen who had egg allergies. Participants were given small amounts of powdered egg or a placebo to mix into food, eventually building up to the equivalent of a third of an egg. Children on the treatment did experience allergic reactions to the egg powder during the first couple of months of the study, but none had a severe reaction.

At the 10 month mark, researchers administered an "oral food challenge" to test the study participants' reactions to eating 5 grams of egg powder, which is equivalent to an entire egg. Fifty-five percent of participants on the treatment passed the challenge without significant allergic symptoms. None of the participants on the placebo passed the challenge. Researchers gave another challenge after 22 total months on the treatment. They were given 10 grams of egg powder, which is equal to nearly two eggs. Seventy-five percent passed the challenge. Those who passed stopped doing the treatment.

After two years, those who had discontinued the second challenge were administered a final test. They were given 10 grams of egg powder and one cooked egg; 28 percent of the original treatment group passed and were able to integrate eggs into their lives.

Dr. Wesley Burks says, "Now, at the end of the third year of treatment it was 45 percent that were able to come off the food and incorporate egg into their diet." Researchers believe that the study brings hope for treating egg and possibly other food allergies, but further research will be needed.

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