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Egg is one of the most allergenic of all foods, and minute amounts of egg can result in symptoms within minutes, including life-threatening anaphylaxis. This is also seen after contact with egg through non-oral routes. Reactions may occur the first time a child is given egg.
Although ovalbumin, ovomucoid, and ovotransferrin have been identified as the major allergens in egg white, 10 other unnamed allergens of lesser importance have been identified. These allergens are also present in egg yolk but in lesser quantities. This is important because components of egg may be individually used for specific actions in food preparation. For example, hen’s egg lysozyme is used as a preservative in food; and in some countries, notably Japan and Switzerland, lysozyme is used in medications. Individuals sensitive to hen’s egg have been shown to be allergic to lysozyme produced from hen’s egg.
A variety of descriptions may indicate the presence of egg protein in a product. The function that egg performs in a product may be named on the ingredient panel (e.g., binder, emulsifier, or coagulant). Because legislation may permit a manufacturer not to list an ingredient constituting less than a specific percentage of the total product, noodles containing egg may not have egg listed on the ingredient panel. A similar situation may occur when egg white is used to give pretzels, bagels, and other baked goods their shiny appearance. In most products, lecithin is derived from soy, but sometimes it may be egg-derived. Provitamin A (extracted from egg) may be used and described as a colorant, but its antigenic properties are unknown.
In addition to food products that may be dangerous to egg-sensitive individuals, egg proteins are also found in cosmetics, shampoos, and pharmaceuticals, such as the laxative Agarol. A patient allergic to egg should avoid buying fried foods from vendors who use the same frying surface for preparing multiple types of food. Recent evidence suggests that egg-sensitive children can receive measles immunization safely.
Although rare, avian proteins can induce egg allergy in susceptible individuals. It has been suggested that duck egg be substituted for hen’s egg in egg-sensitive individuals. These individuals are able to tolerate cooked chicken.