Egg allergy in babies occurs if the proteins in the egg yolk or white trigger a hypersensitivity reaction in their immune system. The condition is more likely in infants with one or both parents with the same allergy. The symptoms may or may not appear immediately after consuming eggs, leaving you confused about why your baby suddenly fell sick. You should check with a pediatrician if you suspect your baby is allergic to eggs. In the meantime, read this post to understand the symptoms of egg allergy in babies and the preventive steps you may take.
What Is Egg Allergy In Babies?
Your baby’s immune system works round-the-clock to protect your little one from parasites, bacteria, and viruses. However, as the immune system in babies is not fully developed, it cannot be as efficient as an adult’s.
- The fundamental cause of an egg allergy in babies is the inability of the immune system to differentiate the egg proteins from disease-causing pathogens. The body sees the egg proteins as foreign invaders and mounts an attack by releasing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE).
- The cells sense the presence of IgE and promptly release histamines, resulting in skin rashes, runny nose, etc., which alert the individual or those around him about the presence of an allergy (1).
- Your baby can develop an allergy to any form of the egg, be it raw, boiled, cooked or even loosely-cooked. Moreover, it can occur in breastfed babies if the mother eats egg (2).
Egg Proteins That Cause Allergy
Egg white and yolk contain proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction by the immune system.
Egg white proteins:
Egg yolk proteins:
Egg white is usually a more common cause of allergies than egg yolk.
But why are some babies more vulnerable than others?
Risk Factors For Egg Allergy
Certain factors may put your baby at a risk of developing an allergy towards eggs.
- Genetic inheritance: If you have a family history of food allergies or one of the parents suffers from an allergy, then there is up to 40% chance for the baby to develop an allergy.
- Cross-reactivity: If your baby has a general tendency to have allergic reactions, then they may develop an allergy towards eggs as well. Babies with allergies for other foods such as grains and nuts are at a higher risk of developing an egg allergy. This phenomenon is known as cross-reactivity. Cross-reactivity occurs when the immune system senses one protein is closely related to another.
- Illness: Since allergies involve the immune system, a recent bout of severe illness may make the body highly sensitive and alert towards foreign substances. This means the body would consider the egg proteins as potential agents of infection, prompting the immune system to attack them.
Signs And Symptoms Of Egg Allergy In Babies
The signs of an egg allergy in babies can be very similar to a conventional illness and may take a few minutes to an hour to show.
- Skin hives: Red bumps or rashes that cause mild to severe itching. A complication of the condition can lead to eczema.
- Mouth swelling: You may notice swelling in lips and perhaps even a swollen tongue.
- Redness in eyes comes along with itching, swelling, and excessive tearing.
- Nose congestion accompanied by clear discharge, redness, and itchiness of the nose.
- Swelling in the throat due to which your baby may show discomfort while swallowing.
- Abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea.
- Vomiting and nausea: The baby appears uncomfortable due to a continuous feeling of nausea.
- Shortness of breath in lungs: The baby will wheeze and breathe rapidly. If the condition persists over a period, he might develop asthma.
- Weak heart pulse may cause a feeling of dizziness.
- Anxiety and agitation: After a sudden bout of anxiety, the baby may appear to be losing consciousness.
- Fever: An increased body temperature, which is often accompanied by any of the aforementioned symptoms.
- Anaphylaxis: In an extreme case of allergic reaction, the baby may go into anaphylactic shock, a condition known as anaphylaxis (3). The condition is life-threatening and displays with the following symptoms:
- Extreme abdominal pain to the point the muscles get severely cramped.
- Swollen throat muscles that constrict the airways, thus making it difficult for the baby to breathe.
- Rapid heartbeat and an increase in pulse rate.
- A sudden bout of increased pulse will follow a drastic drop in the blood pressure, making the baby feel dizzy due to less blood being pumped to the brain. Eventually, he might lose consciousness.
Anaphylaxis can be fatal and requires immediate medical intervention.
While these are the symptoms of egg allergy, there could be other complications due to the allergy, because egg allergy may not always come alone.
Egg Allergy And Complications
Egg allergy could lead to other allergies or conditions mainly as a manifestation of certain complications (4). Your baby may or may not show such complications, but they have a higher risk of displaying the following symptoms:
- Allergies towards fur, dust, dust mites and pollen.
- Allergies towards other foods, usually rich in proteins, like milk, soy, peanuts and fish.
- Development of atopic dermatitis or eczema as a severe form of skin hives.
- Long term shortness of breath or asthma.
These problems often occur as an extension of the egg allergy symptoms, and it is quite likely that treatment may alleviate these complications.
When you see one or more of the above symptoms or complications, do not assume things but take your baby to a doctor, who will diagnose the exact cause. It is important to get it tested before concluding that the baby has egg allergy.
Diagnosis Of Egg Allergy
The doctor will analyze your baby’s diet and history of illness and other allergies. Most commonly, he will employ the following procedures:
- Dietary modifications: The first thing a medical practitioner will ask you to do is to eliminate all suspected allergens from the diet of the baby. He will then ask you to reintroduce one allergen at a time in your baby’s diet. This helps identify the specific food item that is causing the allergy.
- Skin prick test (SPT): A small amount of an allergic substance is placed on the skin of the baby. The the skin is pricked or scratched to check for any reaction (5).
- Blood test: Blood tests called RAST (radioallergosorbent test) and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) are run to determine the presence of antibodies in the blood that may indicate allergy towards eggs.
Your doctor will suggest an appropriate treatment based on the result of the diagnosis.
Treatment Of Egg Allergy In Babies
The treatment will depend on the severity of the allergic reaction. The physician will aim at trimming down the number of symptoms and their intensity so that the baby does not face any threat to his life. There are two courses of treatment for egg allergy in babies:
- Medication: If the symptoms are mild then the doctor will prescribe an antihistamine. You can administer it orally at home. In the case of anaphylaxis, the doctor will give an injection of epinephrine, also referred as adrenaline. He would advise you to purchase auto-inject epinephrine injections to keep them handy in case the baby breaks into an anaphylactic shock again (6).
Epinephrine auto-injector is a self-administered intramuscular injection that administers epinephrine when dabbed to the skin with a certain force. Your pediatrician will educate you about spotting anaphylaxis and prescribe your baby a certain number of epinephrine auto-injectors that you must keep handy. When you notice your baby getting into an anaphylactic shock, dab the auto-injector into the baby’s thigh where a needle delivers epinephrine to the body through the muscle.
- Dietary modifications: The physician will ask you to eliminate egg from the diet of your baby and avoid any food that contains egg. If you are breastfeeding him, you need to stop consuming egg foods. This will prevent the recurrence of allergy symptoms.
The baby may stop showing the symptoms after a course of treatment. But since there is no cure for egg allergy, avoiding egg is the only way to keep your baby free from harm.
Egg Derivatives Found In Food
You need to avoid not just the egg but also foods that have egg in it. Many over-the-shelf food items contain a derivative of egg white or yolk. Following are such ingredients for which you need to check the label every time you buy various food items:
- Powdered egg
- Silici Albuminate
Following are some food products that may contain egg:
- Baked products like cake, pastries, rusk, certain bread, etc.
- Ice cream
- Pudding and custards
- Mayonnaise and salad dressings
- Dressing on fried meat like fried chicken
The egg is nutritious and contains a high amount of proteins. Therefore, you need to find alternatives, so that your baby is not deprived of the goodness of egg.
Healthy Replacement For Eggs
Following are certain foods that make a great substitute for eggs.
- Meat: Meat from poultry is a great way of replacing an egg in the diet when you have a breastfed baby allergic to egg or a baby above six months who can be fed on meat. It is a great source of zinc and dietary minerals that help a baby grow better (7). You can feed meat in a pureed form and once your baby is old enough to chew, you can start with solid nugget size meat pieces.
- Legumes: Legumes or dal has proteins in abundance. You may boil it with rice, make a paste or puree depending on the age of your baby.
- Nuts: Nuts are an amazing source of vitamins and good cholesterol and thus make a great substitute for eggs.
- Leafy vegetables: Leafy vegetables are a good source of minerals and vitamins.
- A caveat: You must check whether or not your baby is allergic to the said food items before feeding them to him.
Tips On Prevention Of Egg Allergies In Babies
Egg allergy does not have a definite cure and every treatment is targeted towards the mitigation of the symptoms. Here are some tips which can help you prevent allergies among babies.
- Introduce egg early in life: Research has shown that introduction of a food item early in a baby’s life can reduce the chances of developing an allergy (8). This usually happens by the desensitization of the body’s immune system towards the food item. Over a period, the immune system can identify the proteins in the egg as harmless and thus stops attacking them with an antibody response.
- Attempts while breastfeeding: A breastfeeding mother may avoid egg to prevent an allergic reaction in her baby. However, research has shown that it is not always necessary to avoid allergic foods when breastfeeding because breast milk strengthens the immune system of the baby. This means the system becomes more competent at differentiating between proteins and pathogens (7). You may use this prevention measure on a trial and error basis.
- Immunotherapy: In this treatment, the baby receives some egg over a period to desensitize the immune system (9). The treatment begins with a small dose, followed by incremental doses at fixed time intervals. The baby’s condition is monitored and if he shows a complete withdrawal of the allergy symptoms, he is declared safe to consume the food.
The above-mentioned measures were arrived at after conducting tests in a controlled environment. Therefore, we advise you to consult a pediatrician before adopting any prevention measure for egg allergy in your infant.
Tips On Controlling Egg Allergy
Many babies outgrow their allergy over a period. Many times, the allergy persists until adolescence and then disappears. Here are some useful tips that can help you control egg allergy in your baby:
- If your baby has been clinically diagnosed with severe egg allergy, always keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you. Epinephrine auto-injectors can help save precious moments between the onset of allergy and medical attention (10). You may still have to take your baby to a pediatrician but he will be at a lesser risk.
- Keep eggs and egg products out of your baby’s reach as even a slight brush of the lips can trigger a full-blown allergic reaction. Some babies could be so sensitive that they may develop an allergic reaction just by staying in the company of someone who just ate an egg! This is hypersensitivity, and you need to be extra careful with such babies (11).
- An allergic reaction may sometimes show mild symptoms. For example, your baby may just appear lethargic and pale, which could be a sign of egg allergy. If you suspect something is a miss, then take him to a pediatrician.
- Some babies may have allergy only if they eat the egg directly and can tolerate it as an ingredient in other food preparations. This means they will be able to eat cakes or other items in which eggs are added before the baking/cooking process. You may try this cautiously (12).
Egg Allergy And Vaccinations
Certain vaccines use egg whites or yolks during their manufacturing process. Some vaccines use avian or bird cells, which could also expose your baby to proteins that are found in egg. However, modern formulations of the vaccines eliminate the use of the egg completely. Here are some of the common vaccines that could expose your baby to egg proteins:
- Influenza (flu) vaccine: If your baby displayed skin hives as the only allergic reaction to eggs, then he can safely have an influenza vaccine (13). The latest advancements in vaccine making process have ensured a minimal use of egg. This lets babies with even elaborate egg allergies receive a vaccination but they may have to stay under a doctor’s observation for at least an hour after vaccination (14). There are also influenza vaccines available that do not use bird cells in the making process thus offsetting the presence of egg proteins.
- Yellow fever and typhus vaccine: Yellow fever and typhus vaccine have a substantial amount of egg protein in its formulation. But these vaccines are not part of the routine immunization schedule of a baby and are only given when you are traveling to those parts of the globe that have a presence of these diseases (15). This vaccine is generally not recommended for babies with egg allergies but you may administer it under medical supervision.
- Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine: MMR vaccine is quite safe even for babies with severe egg allergies (16). There have been substantial studies that prove the safety of these vaccines.
Remember to consult the pediatrician about vaccination. Also, share your baby’s egg allergy history with the physician so that he can decide if the vaccine is safe, or provide you with an alternative vaccine.
One of the most prevalent types of food allergy is egg allergy in babies, which is caused by egg proteins triggering a hypersensitive reaction in their immune system. Therefore, if you decide to give your baby an egg or its recipes, keep an eye out for any allergy symptoms, like rashes, stomach pain, swelling, and vomiting. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice a severe allergic response, and look into different egg alternatives for your baby’s diet. Also, share and consult about your baby’s egg allergy history with the physician.
Infographic: How Effective Is Oral Immunotherapy In Treating Egg Allergy
Parents may consider several approaches if an egg allergy has been identified in the child. Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is one such approach that may help alleviate egg allergy without the use of medications. The infographic below sheds light on OIT, its advantages, and its efficacy in treating egg allergy.
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