All About Allergies to Milk and Eggs

in Basics, Food Allergy, Milk & Egg
Published: August 24, 2010

Allergies to milk and eggs are two of the most common types of food allergies in children. Milk allergy usually develops in infants before the first birthday.

When someone with a milk allergy ingests milk even a trace amount, that person is at risk of a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. Egg allergies are often associated with skin symptoms such as hives, but anaphylaxis can also occur.

Prevalence of Allergies to Milk and Eggs

Milk allergy is the most common food allergy in young children, affecting 2.5 per cent of kids under 3 years old. Egg allergy is the second most common, and is estimated to affect between 1.5 to 3.2 per cent of children.

Although it is common for children to outgrow a milk or egg allergy, this is happening at a much later age than in past, with both of these allergies persisting into high school. The only way to safely determine if you have outgrown an allergy is to get tested by your allergist, including an oral challenge under supervision.

Anaphylaxis to Milk or Egg

An anaphylactic reaction includes more than one of the body’s systems, such as the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, the skin and cardiovascular symptom. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include tingling in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and throat, itchy skin or hives, difficulty breathing, abdominal cramping and vomiting. In a severe anaphylactic reaction, a person may experience a drop of blood pressure, loss of consciousness and even cardiac arrest and death.

One of the issues in managing milk or egg allergy is that symptoms can vary greatly. A person may have had minor symptoms, only to suffer anaphylaxis on a subsequent exposure.

Because milk or egg allergy reactions can be severe, it is important that a person with this allergy carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen or Twinject) with them at all times.

Non-Allergic Reactions

Milk allergy involves the immune system and IgE (allergic) antibodies, but milk can cause non-allergic symptoms, too. Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance, which is a digestive condition and not an allergy. Infants can also develop food-protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES for short), a condition involves vomiting and diarrhea (and therefore resembles allergy), but it doesn’t cause hives to develop and allergy tests will not be positive.

Is there a Cure?

Currently, there is no cure for milk or egg allergy. However, scientists are working on ways to “desensitize” patients with these allergies. This is done in a very controlled setting, with emergency treatment at hand, and must never be tried at home.

The most researched and talked about form of desensitization at this point is called oral immunotherapy (OIT).

In this treatment, an allergic child consumes gradually increasing amounts of his or her allergen in an effort to retrain the immune system. Researchers are also studying whether this process may make people “tolerant”, or in other words, cured of their allergy.

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