Ewan McCartney was 10 months old when he first tasted a scrambled egg. Within minutes he developed a swollen area on his forehead. Another lump soon emerged and both eyes swelled shut. Hives appeared next, covering his torso. He vomited and started wheezing.
By the time the emergency medical team arrived, Ewan was in anaphylactic shock – limp in his mother’s arms, not breathing and in cardiac distress. His body had turned blue from lack of oxygen. Luckily, the medics were equipped. They immediately gave Ewan epinephrine and he began to revive. They took Ewan to the hospital, watched him for more than six hours to be sure there would not be a second reaction and released him, handing parents Anna and Colin a prescription for auto-injectable epinephrine.
When Eggs Don’t Go Over Easy
Egg allergy isn’t an exact science. Some people are allergic to egg white protein, some to egg yolk protein and a small group to both, although egg white allergy is the most common form of egg allergy. But avoiding an allergic reaction to eggs isn’t as simple as separating the yolk from the whites. You can’t ensure that an egg white separated from the yolk doesn’t have any traces of egg yolk protein on it and vice versa. In addition, some people with egg allergy will react only to raw eggs but seem to tolerate cooked eggs; others react to both. To keep patients safe, anyone with egg allergy should avoid eating or touching eggs or being in the room while eggs are cooked.
Living With Egg Allergy
According to the University of Michigan Health System, most children outgrow their egg allergy by age 5. However, egg allergy can last a lifetime, so talk with your allergist before putting eggs back on your child’s menu. You may need to work with a nutritionist to be sure you and your family get the protein and other nutrients you need while avoiding products with egg.
Even with the closest supervision, egg allergy can surprise you. One such occasion for Anna and Ewan was another child’s birthday party. Anna talked to the birthday boy’s mother ahead of time, who took extra steps to keep Ewan safe. She made egg-free cupcakes for all the children. The Elmo sugar cake toppers she bought for the cupcakes had egg in them, so she set aside a cupcake for Ewan without the topper. “Ewan ate his cupcake and had a great time at the party,” Anna says. “But another child who had eaten the Elmo decoration later gave Ewan a big slobbery kiss on his cheek. Just from the egg in her saliva, Ewan’s cheek puffed up and turned red. It was really an eye-opener to me to keep Ewan away from people with eggy fingers or kisses.”
Although egg is one of the top eight food allergens in the United States, Anna frequently encounters people who don’t seem to take egg allergy as seriously as other food allergies that get more press, like peanut allergy. “For some children, milk or egg allergy may not cause anaphylaxis,” Anna relates. “So many information sources say ‘Egg and milk allergies are rarely severe.’ I think that is doing a real disservice to families who are dealing with life-threatening food allergies. If someone has an allergy to any food, it must be taken seriously.”
An Egg by Any Other Name . . .
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 states that all packaged foods labeled on or after January 1, 2006, must list – in plain language - whether a product contains one of the top eight food allergens: milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.
But if you’re reading older food labels, here are a few other terms you may see that indicate the product contains egg:
- Egg substitutes
- Egg (white, yolk, dried,powdered, solids)
- Ovolactohydrolyze proteins
Read the labels of nonfood products too. Hair care products, skin creams, craft materials and even medications may contain eggs. Vaccines are another potential source of egg allergen. Vaccines for influenza shots are grown on egg embryos, so they may have a small amount of egg protein and may not be appropriate for people with egg allergy. Your child’s allergist can perform a skin prick test to see if your child will have an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine. Most childhood vaccines are now egg-free, but talk with your doctor about which vaccines are safe for your family.
Easy Egg Substitutes
For each egg required in a recipe, substitute one of these mixtures:
- 11⁄2 tablespoons water, 11⁄2 tablespoons cooking oil and 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon yeast dissolved in 1⁄4 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon apricot puree
- One packet plain gelatin mixed with 2 tablespoons warm water.
Source: Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, Texas.
Anna’s favorite egg-free cookbook is Bakin’ Without Eggs: Delicious Egg-Free Dessert Recipes from the Heart and Kitchen of a Food-Allergic Family by Rosemarie Emro (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999). “I always had a hard time using egg substitutions,” she says. “There’s a lot of guesswork and not every substitution works for every recipe (you wouldn’t use yeast in cookies!). So I was grateful to find a recipe book where someone else had done all the experimenting. It gave me confidence in the kitchen.”
First published: Allergy & Asthma Today, Spring 2007