DRHOOK- Cluck, cluck: Egg allergies are no yolk

the handsome doctor John Hong

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The best educated guess I can make would be the chicken. The first chicken was an evolved or mutated offspring of some other bird that looked like Foghorn Leghorn. 

I love chicken. I love eggs. I buy only free-range organic chickens and eggs now because I don't like the idea of chickens being all cooped up– though my nurse recently burst my bubble recently saying the stories of free-range chickens is a big lie. (Maybe she hadn't seen the pictures of Polyface Farms.)

Poached, scrambled, or sunny-side up, I love eggs, though I know the yolk has more cholesterol than a whale has blubber. So I cook mostly just the egg whites, throwing in just one yolk.

What would happen if I were allergic to eggs?

Hen's eggs are the cause of the second-most common food allergy in infants and young kids. (Milk is Numero Uno.) In Denmark, 1.6 percent of kiddies three years old had confirmation of egg allergy, although in Germany a study showed only 0.0004 percent to be allergic. 

The allergy is mainly to five proteins in the egg, mostly the white, although there's a major allergen in the yolk as well. Most folks with egg allergies are okay if the egg is cooked at high temps, like when baked. (Who said real men don't eat quiche?) The heat breaks up the allergic-provoking proteins. 

How about people who are allergic to vaccines with egg in them? Some folks aren't allergic to eating eggs because the acidity of the stomach breaks up the proteins. On the other hand, having them injected is a different story. Flu and yellow-fever vaccines contain egg protein, even the nasal flu vaccine.

The main allergic reaction is called atopic dermatitis: a red, dry, itchy– did I say dry?– rash all over the body or just some parts. It can be awful, and no amount of Jergens, Lubriderm, or Vaseline Intensive Care lotion can cure the affected skin.

Life can be hard to swallow. Esophagitis from egg allergies makes it even harder. Like inflamed skin, the esophagus can become really sore. Within minutes to a couple of hours after having eggs, a bad reaction can occur to make the throat close up and can even halt breathing. Swelling of the face can make a person look as bad as George Foreman in the 15th round. Hives and diffuse itchiness can pop up. These things can be life-threatening and required immediate attention. 

Asthma from egg allergies causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing fits. Bird-egg syndrome occurs if a person is allergic to the egg yolk. So Big Bird can cause this person to start wheezing.

Some people with egg allergies will also be allergic to other bird eggs (like quail and duck) as well as even to eating chicken. Finger-licking– itchy!

Most kids outgrow egg allergies, but quite a few remain allergic for life. Blood tests, skin tests, and food challenges (the last sounds like something from The Biggest Loser) all can be used to test for egg allergies. Allergists are well versed in testing for this type of allergy. 

So a life without eggs mean avoiding many baked goods, cream fillings, custards, ice cream, pastas, ice cream (egad!!!), etc. The list of foods with eggs is eggstraordinary!


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.