Could you have an egg allergy or egg intolerance? By themselves, eggs are a popular protein source at the heart of many healthy and tasty meals. They’re also a key ingredient in many popular food items like pasta, pancakes and so many more. You might already know that common food allergies include peanuts and dairy, but did you know that the incredible edible egg is actually one of the most common food allergies today? Specifically, an allergy to egg-white proteins is most prevalent. (1)
If a child or an adult has an egg allergy, he or she may also have a self-protective instinct to avoid eggs entirely. However, sometimes that doesn’t happen or sometimes you just don’t realize when you are consuming an egg ingredient unknowingly since there are actually many ingredients used in food products that are not commonly known to be egg-derived.
Egg nutrition is impressive and there are a lot of delicious egg recipes out there so hopefully you’re not allergic, but it’s important to know if you are so that you’re not unknowingly causing yourself ill health. I’m here to tell you some of the best ways to tell if you are allergic to eggs or if you have an egg intolerance. Plus, how to avoid eggs if you need to and the best natural alternatives to eggs.
What Is an Egg Allergy?
Someone with an egg allergy must have had prior exposure to eggs through diet or vaccination to cause an allergic reaction. What exactly does it mean to have an egg allergy? If you’re allergic to eggs, this means that your body’s immune system mistakenly identifies egg protein as a harmful substance. So when you consume eggs your immune system responds by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which sets off an allergic reaction in your body that can result in visible as well as internal egg allergy symptoms. If you have an egg allergy, you can be allergic to the white, yolk or both.
If you have an egg allergy, then within a brief amount of time after consuming (or even just touching) eggs, you can have the following egg allergy symptoms: (2)
- skin reactions including swelling, a rash, hives or eczema
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- runny nose
- watery or red eyes
- stomach pain
Anyone can develop an egg allergy, but some people have a higher chance than others due to specific risk factors. Egg allergies are more common amongst children than adults. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology (ACAAI), up to 2 percent of kids in the United States have an allergy to eggs. (3)
Children are are also more likely to develop an egg allergy and food allergies in general if they also have skin conditions, specifically eczema. Almost all egg allergies occur in kids who had infantile eczema and the severest reactions are typically observed between six and 15 months of age. (4) Genetics also play a role in increasing the risk of developing a food allergy. If a child has a parent or two parents with a food allergy or seasonal allergies then the child is more inclined to have food allergies also. The good news with childhood egg allergies is that studies show around 70 percent of children outgrow the allergy by time they are 16 years old. (5)
Adults are actually a lot less likely than children to have an egg allergy. It’s very rare for an adult to develop an egg allergy. Sometimes it might just be that a person finally realizes in adulthood that they had an egg allergy since childhood. Clinical egg allergy symptoms pretty much always start when an individual is a child or young adult. For adults, reactions to egg tend to be less intense. Slight nausea or an eczema flare-up might be the only signs of an allergic reaction after consuming an egg or egg-laden product. (6) It’s helpful to know that if you (or your child) find out that you are allergic to chicken eggs, then you may also be allergic to other egg types like duck, goose, quail and turkey.
Egg Allergy vs. Egg Intolerance
If you don’t have an egg allergy, is it possible that you have an egg intolerance? The majority of egg-intolerant people tend to be okay with the egg yolk, but it’s the egg white, or albumen, that their bodies can’t handle. While an egg allergy actually involves a chemical reaction in the body, an egg intolerance typically means that a person cannot properly process and absorb the egg whites (or egg yolks).
Common egg intolerance symptoms include a lot of digestive complaints many people struggle with, like bloating, excessive gas, nausea, stomach pain and stomach cramping. Vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues are also in the realm of possibility. Are there any other possible symptoms? Yes, an egg intolerance can reveal itself in the form of headaches, skin problems, trouble breathing, heartburn, joint pain, irritability and nervousness. (7)
There are some generally helpful ways to know if you have a food allergy or a food intolerance: (8)
- Usually comes on suddenly
- Small amount of food can trigger it
- Happens every time you eat the food
- Can be life-threatening
- Usually comes on gradually
- May only happen when you eat a lot of the food
- May only happen if you eat the food often
- Is not life-threatening
Egg in Vaccines
When you have an egg allergy or egg intolerance, it’s obvious that not consuming eggs or egg-derived ingredients (see next section) will be the main way to help yourself. But did you know that it’s not uncommon for many vaccines to contain egg protein? It’s true!
Do you find it hard to believe that eggs are being used in vaccinations, especially the common flu vaccine? As the CDC website states, “Most flu shots and the nasal spray flu vaccine are manufactured using egg-based technology.“ Why do flu vaccines contain egg protein? Well, according to the CDC, “Most flu vaccines today are produced using an egg-based manufacturing process and thus contain a small amount of egg protein called ovalbumin.” (9)
It’s not just the flu vaccine that contains egg. The yellow fever vaccine, often required for travel to Africa and South Africa, also contains egg protein. (10) According to scientific research, “the measles virus used in the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and single measles vaccine is grown in cultures of fibroblasts from chick embryos, and there have been concerns raised about the possible presence of egg protein in the vaccines and the advisability of administration to individuals who are allergic to eggs.” (11)
The practice of administering the MMR vaccine to children who are allergic to eggs varies by doctor and country, so I highly suggest doing your homework and letting your pediatrician know if you have concerns.
Other Names for Egg Protein
To avoid contact with eggs, it’s also important to know other egg ingredients.
Sometimes egg protein is listed as an ingredient under the following names: (12)
- Albumin or albumen
- Other words starting with “ova” or “ovo,” the prefix for ovum, which is Latin for egg
Egg substitutes are actually often made with egg whites, so watch out for those, too. There are also some non-food items you’ll want to be aware of if you or your child has an egg allergy or egg intolerance. Things like shampoos, makeup, finger paints, and certain medications may contain egg products. As I just mentioned, vaccines are also something that most people don’t realize contain egg, especially the majority of flu vaccines as well as the MMR and yellow fever vaccine. (13)
The following foods also commonly contain eggs:
- Ice cream
- Sauces and spreads
5 Egg Alternatives
If you realize that you have an egg allergy or egg intolerance, you don’t have to throw those recipes that call for eggs out the window. When you need to replace eggs in cooking or baking, there are thankfully many healthy alternatives that will mimic the binding and thickening properties of eggs.
Here are some great egg substitutes to try:
1. Apple Sauce
- Best for: cakes, muffins, quick breads
- 1 egg = 1/4 cup applesauce
Be sure to use unsweetened, unflavored organic applesauce. It’ll act as a binder, keeping cakes and muffins moist.
2. Baking Soda and Vinegar
- Best for: cakes, muffins, quick breads
- 1 egg = 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 tablespoon water
This combo is best used when you want to keep treats, like cakes, fluffy. It’s best in recipes where more than one egg is listed.
3. Banana or Another Fruit Puree
- Best for: cakes, muffins, quick breads
- 1 egg = 1/4 cup mashed banana or other pureed fruit
Bananas and fruit purees, like pumpkin, add loads of moisture to baked goods. Depending on how ripe the banana is or the type of fruit puree used, they might add extra sweetness, too, so you might want to adjust sugar levels accordingly.
4. Chia Seeds and Flaxseeds
- Best for: cakes, muffins, quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, brownies
- 1 egg = 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds (after grinding) and 3 tablespoons water
Use chia seeds or flaxseeds as your egg substitute and get an extra nutritional boost to boot. Grind chia/flax seeds in a coffee grinder, mix with water and let set in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. You’ll wind up with an egg substitute that’s surprisingly similar to an egg in texture. Since flax adds a slightly nutty flavor, it’s great in whole-grain breads, muffins and pancakes; use with caution in cakes.
5. Powdered Egg Replacer
- Best for: cakes, muffins, quick breads, cookies, brownies, yeast breads
- 1 egg = Half tablespoon powdered egg replacer plus 2 tablespoons water
This egg substitute is made from potato and tapioca starch and you can make it at home. It’s free of eggs, gluten, wheat, casein, dairy, yeas, soy, tree nuts or peanuts, so it’s a great substitute for those who aren’t vegan but still suffer from food allergies.
You can also buy powdered egg replacers, such as Ener-G Egg Replacer. Commercial egg replacers are, however, processed products, so use this only if you feel another egg substitute wouldn’t cut it.Though it’s supposed to be flavor-less, Ener-G can impart a slightly metallic or chalky taste to baked goods. It’s best in cookies or baked goods where there are a decent amount of other ingredients that can “mask” the taste and where fluffiness isn’t a factor.
The federal Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that all packaged food products sold in the U.S. that contains egg as an ingredient must list the word “egg” on the label, but you should still always read labels carefully. Also, companies can change their ingredients at anytime, so it’s possible an egg ingredient that wasn’t there previously is now included in a product you’ve been buying for years.
To avoid an allergic reaction to eggs, it’s obviously necessary to steer clear of eggs, but you’ll also want to avoid any products that contain any of the other ingredients I just mentioned. If you’re unsure if a something contains egg or egg protein, you should contact the product’s manufacturer.
If you suspect that you are allergic or intolerant to eggs, testing can help you to know for sure. You may only be allergic to the yolk or white, but it’s typically recommended to avoid eggs entirely even if you’re just allergic to one part of the egg since it’s so hard to truly separate the two 100 percent. Many companies are now creating egg-free products for vegans, which is great news for you if you are allergic or intolerant to eggs. The other good news is that you now have many healthy alternatives to eggs that can be used so you can continue to make your favorite culinary creations.