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Food allergies are caused by the consumption of food items (containing common allergens) that the body considers as a threat. It is then obvious that egg allergies are an allergic reaction of the immune system, against the consumption of eggs. Sometimes though, they can also be caused by just a skin contact with them. They usually start young in children but are usually outgrown at the average age of about 5 years. Some of the more common factors that may lead to increased risk of egg allergy include atopic dermatitis, family history and age.
In egg allergies, the human immune system overreacts to the proteins present and categorizes them as threats to be fought against. It responds by releasing antibodies like 'immunoglobulin E (IgE)', to fight against these invaders. These antibodies, in turn, release chemicals like histamine that start the counter attack. The problem is that, the release of these chemicals adversely affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. The effect on all of these is most obviously visible on the skin, when it comes to egg allergies.
Egg allergy symptoms can be seen anytime, within minutes of consumption or even hours later. They usually last for less than three days, no matter what their severity. The effect can be broadly classified under four symptom heads. They are all explained in detail below:
Skin Reactions
Egg allergies show up first on the skin. Their visibility can range from bumpy, red rashes to hives (urticaria). It can be seen as eczema (atopic dermatitis) and irritable itching. Skin reactions show up in almost all food allergies, so a proper diagnosis is required to trace it back to source.
Oral Symptoms
Redness and swelling, around the mouth and lips area, is very common. This is scientifically termed as angioedema. Sometimes the inflammation is accompanied by itchiness and soreness, which can hinder activities like talking and eating. Oral symptoms are prominently visible, so these are the symptoms that cause the most emotional upset and withdrawal.
Sinus Symptoms (Respiratory Tract)
It all starts with a runny nose and then leads on to itchy, watery eyes, sneezing to the point of triggering asthma and coughing and wheezing. It may also trigger severe 'angioedema' which is the swelling of blood vessels, under the skin, near the hands, face, tongue and genitals. Migraine headaches and nocturnal enuresis can also be termed as the symptoms of egg allergies. They can cause nasal inflammation, commonly known as rhinitis.
Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Belly cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are common symptoms. Abdominal cramping and indigestion can easily be thought of as symptoms of something else, so these symptoms are often deceptive. Gastrointestinal symptoms are also the culprits for the general lethargy or fatigue that often accompanies an egg allergy. It can also cause intense heartburn.
Anaphylaxis
This is the strongest, most fatal reaction to an egg allergy. This reaction can be seen in those people that are especially sensitive to eggs, even egg fumes and skin contact. Anaphylaxis is basically the swelling of the mouth and throat, that obstructs the airways leading to the lungs and makes breathing extremely difficult. It is often accompanied by dangerous drops in blood pressure that results in dizziness and incidents of passing out. Anaphylaxis symptoms may also include cramping, abdominal pain and rapid pulse. It can also lead to an anaphylactic shock. This extreme case needs immediate medical intervention and often involves at least one trip to the hospital emergency room.
Severe egg allergies can be treated by administering epinephrine shots or by prescribing diphenhydramine (a common antihistamine - benadryl) or corticosteroid to the patient. Though treatment is available, it does not completely cure the sensitivity to egg proteins and often even desensitization therapies fail to do that completely. The best thing for egg allergies is prevention and this can be done by being aware of everything that you are eating and ensuring that all ingredient labels for packed foods are attentively read.