You'll find eggs or egg protein in lots of every day food products. From baked goods to canned soups, ice cream, pasta, salad dressings, mayonnaise and more. That's fine unless your child is allergic to eggs - then it becomes a nightmare trying to find egg-free foods.
About four-percent of U.S. children experience some type of food allergy, with egg allergy being the most common. Many children will outgrow the allergy after age 5, but some will carry the sensitivity into adulthood. Food allergy reactions can vary widely ranging from mild to death, so they are not to be taken lightly.
A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that by giving children with egg allergies a small amount of egg-white powder for 10 months, their allergy was reduced or eliminated after the study period.
Dr. Wesley Burks, the lead author of the study and chairman of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina spoke with ABCNews.com about the study's findings. "The children were treated and then taken off treatment, the first large study to do so. Almost a third of those treated were able to come off treatment and now eat eggs in their diet."
Researchers enrolled 55 children and teens with egg allergies. Participants' families were then either given the equivalent of one-third of an egg in powder form, or a placebo, to mix into their children's food.
After 10 months, researchers gave the kids an "oral food challenge" in which they were given 5 grams of egg powder, the equivalent to one whole egg. They found that 55 percent of the children did not have an allergic reaction at that time. After 22 months, researchers gave the children two whole eggs and found that 75 percent of the children were no longer allergic. More than one-quarter of the study group was able to work egg back into their diet.
Other studies have worked with children to overcome different food allergies- such as peanuts and milk. Some of the studies have produced very good results by introducing the offending food in small doses and letting the immune system build up a tolerance. Although it may be tempting to begin this process with your own children, Burks warned parents not to try this at home.
More trials are needed before the allergy intervention is used in widespread clinical practice. There needs to be Food and Drug Administration approval and further trials with bigger patient populations, and it could take a number of years before the intervention is seen in general practice.
"It is likely that this will eventually become an accepted clinical approach but even then it should be only done by physicians with experience in the procedure, who appreciate the dangers and have the time to carefully supervise the process," said Nelson. "This will never be an approach that should be conducted out in primary care."
Currently the only option for children or adults with food allergies is to eliminate the food completely from their diet. Researchers say this study and others like it may eventually lead to oral immunotherapy being the accepted treatment for all children who have food allergies.
Fifteen percent of food allergic individuals experience an accidental ingestion per year, said Dr. Tania Mucci, an allergist at Winthrop University Hospital in New York. While egg allergic patients would still need to be diligent, the potential for oral egg immunotherapy to decrease the risk of a severe reaction from an accidental ingestion would be extremely valuable for the patients mental and of course, physical health.
"Oral immunotherapy for food allergy, if safe and standardized, would be the Holy Grail for food allergic patients," said Mucci.
While the promise of a new treatment is hopeful for parents and guardians of children with egg allergies, at this time they should remain vigilant in eliminating eggs or egg protein products from their child's diet.
How do you know if your child is allergic to eggs?
Egg allergy reactions vary from person to person and usually occur soon after exposure to egg. Egg allergy symptoms can include:
- Skin inflammation or hives the most common egg allergy reaction
- Allergic nasal inflammation (allergic rhinitis)
- Digestive (gastrointestinal) symptoms, such as cramps, nausea and vomiting
- Asthma signs and symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath
A severe allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening emergency that requires an immediate epinephrine (adrenaline) shot and a trip to the emergency room. Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms include:
- Constriction of airways, including a swollen throat or a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Rapid pulse
- Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure felt as dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, discuss any symptoms you notice with your pediatrician or family doctor. He or she will refer you to an allergist or allergy specialist for testing.