Eggs are one of the most common food allergies suffered by children. Scientific knowledge about infant egg allergies has evolved rapidly in the last couple years and in this article we discuss the latest findings on how to identify and potentially prevent an egg allergy in your baby.
What causes an egg allergy?
An egg allergy occurs when your body produces an abnormal immune reaction when it encounters the proteins found in eggs. Similar to other food allergies, there is no way to know if your baby will suffer an egg allergy until they are introduced to egg proteins. So the best way to test your child and potentially prevent them developing an allergy is by making an educated decision based on your own family history and your baby’s individual circumstances.
What are the risk factors of an egg allergy in children?
It is estimated that around 2% of children will experience an egg allergy early in life, but thankfully 70% of egg allergy sufferers will outgrow this condition by age 16. Most children who develop an egg allergy have a close family member who also suffers from egg allergies, asthma, or from severe eczema (atopic dermatitis). Obviously the risk is also increased if your baby suffers from any of these themselves. If any of these apply to your child then it is important to consult an allergist before introducing your baby to eggs to ensure it is safe for you to do so.
Egg allergy symptoms to look out for in babies?
Even though a small percentage of children is likely to be affected by an egg allergy, the symptoms can range from mild to life threatening in the ones who do develop it. It is important to know what to look for when you are first introducing your child to eggs. The most common symptoms to look out for include:
- Typical allergy symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, red or watery eyes, swelling of the tongue or lips, or skin rashes such as hives.
- Digestive difficulty including vomiting, stomach cramps, indigestion (heartburn), or diarrhea.
- Breathing difficulty including wheezing, shortness of breath, repetitive coughing, hoarse voice, or a tightness in the throat.
- Circulation changes including a weak pulse, pale or blue coloring of the lips or skin, dizziness, or confusion.
If your child shows any of these signs, you should talk to your health care provider to get an allergy test to confirm your suspicions of an egg allergy. If they are having trouble breathing, become floppy, or seem to be having a severe reaction, dial emergency services immediately.
What age can babies eat eggs?
Previous recommendations were to not introduce eggs into the babies diet until after their first birthday. Similar to peanut allergies, this dated advice to avoid food allergens during the early years has actually lead to an increase in egg allergies later in life. More recently in a new study it was found that introducing baby to eggs from 6 months of age helps prevent allergy development.
If you determine that your child’s risk is low, then it should be safe to gently introduce your child to eggs in a supervised and controlled manner at home. As with all new potentially allergen containing foods, introduction is best done when your baby is already established eating solid foods routinely. This helps you to know what the normal behavior for your child is, and what a potential symptom of the new food is. When introducing a new food to your baby’s diet, make sure you keep the rest of their diet the same for around 4 days to notice any delayed reactions.
How to introduce eggs to baby?
It is important to keep in mind that what you think is your babies first exposure to egg might not actually be. Many babies are introduced to egg proteins via their mother’s breast milk or hidden in unexpected places.
Eggs can be introduced to babies at around 6 months old. It used to be that it was suggested that the egg yolk be introduced to the baby first, because it was thought that the egg whites for babies were more likely to cause an allergic reaction, but new research has put this theory to rest and you can introduce your baby to the whole egg right away.
The easiest way to do this is to hard boil an egg, peel it, and then mash it up. You can mix this with pureed fruits or vegetables they have already been introduced to, or make baby scrambled eggs by mixing the egg with a bit of breast milk or formula. If they show no symptoms after the initial introduction then you can get cracking with scrambled eggs, omelettes, and other goodies.
Make sure that any eggs you give to baby are fully cooked throughout to prevent introduction to Salmonella. You can further reduce the risk of Salmonella infection by buying pasteurized eggs, from stores or suppliers who keep them refrigerated, and discard cracked or dirty eggs. Make sure to thoroughly wash your hands or any cooking items that come in contact with raw egg with hot soapy water.
It is also important to note that you shouldn’t worry about feeding your baby eggs due to cholesterol concerns. Saturated fat is actually the biggest enemy when it comes to high cholesterol. While there is cholesterol in egg yolks, it is also where all the nutrients are found. For the most part, as long as you are aren’t serving up half a dozen egg omelettes, your child should be safe with a small amount of eggs a couple times a week to start off with. We’ve got some great egg recipes for kids for you to try.
What to do if you find your baby has an egg allergy?
The best way to manage a confirmed egg allergy is through avoiding eggs, but egg can be hidden in many unexpected pre-packaged foods. Things like mayonnaise, ice cream, marshmallows, and meatballs can all have egg lurking in the ingredients list. Make sure to always check the labels and ask in restaurants when eating out. When reading labels there are also several terms that include “hidden” egg such as the following:
- Words that begin with “ova” or “ovo,” like ovalbumin or ovoglobulin
Keep in mind that as your child’s digestive system matures they are highly likely to outgrow many food allergies including an egg allergy. Until then there are ways to cook your favorite recipes without egg using replacements for egg free cooking, such as flax seeds.
Can I vaccinate my child if they have an egg allergy?
In the past, flu vaccines contained small amounts of egg proteins which could trigger an allergic reaction in children, not from the vaccine itself but the presence of eggs. These days most flu vaccines no longer pose a threat to egg allergy suffers, but some vaccines such as the Yellow fever vaccine still contain high amounts of egg protein and cannot be used by egg allergy sufferers. It is therefore always best to consult with your doctor before any immunization process if you find your child has a confirmed egg allergy.