Egg Beater: Overcoming a Food Allergy

For 15 million Americans with food allergies, what they eat could kill them.

The problem seems to be on the rise too.

The CDC reports an 18% increase between 1997 and 2007.

Tonight's healthcast looks at what is helping some beat their allergies.

Hannah Gooch loves the ukelele and food that could have killed her.

Hannah was allergic to eggs, but not anymore.

Hannah's Mom, Necia Joy Gooch, says,  "It's a huge thing. I mean it makes me kinda teary thinking about it."

She took part in an egg allergy study led by UNC Doctor Wesley Burks.

Dr. Wesley Burks says, "There's no proactive treatment and that's the reason this study was done."

Kids with the allergy ate egg protein everyday.

Hannah Gooch says, "They'd give me a dose of egg protein in powder."

Necia Gooch says, "We mixed it with applesauce."

About once a year, they would eat a real egg to test their tolerance.

At the end of three years, 45 percent of the kids were able to add egg to their diets.

Necia Gooch: "And they just said Hannah can have egg and we were all like, what!"

Doctor Burks says the results are promising, but, "...more phase two and then more phase three studies need to be done before we can say yes, it's the right thing to do."

It has changed Hannah's life.

Now she can focus on her music, not her old allergy.

Doctor Burks tells us further studies testing the egg allergy treatment are in the works.

He says if successful, it could be applied to other common allergies, like milk and peanuts.

BACKGROUND:   Eggs are the most common food allergy in children.  Egg allergy can occur at infancy.  Most children outgrow their egg allergy before they hit adolescence, but in some instances it can continue into adulthood.  Egg allergy symptoms will usually occur a few minutes to a few hours after eating eggs or foods containing eggs.  Symptoms can be mild to severe and include: hives, skin rashes, nasal inflammation, and vomiting or other digestive problems.  Egg allergy can also cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, although it is very rare.  (Source:

CAUSES:  All food allergies are caused by an immune system overreaction.  The immune system mistakes certain egg proteins as harmful.  Whenever someone comes in contact with egg proteins, immune system cells recognize them and signal the immune system to release histamine and chemicals that cause allergic symptoms and signs.  Egg yolks and egg whites can both cause allergies, but allergy to egg whites is the most common.  (Source:

HIDDEN SOURCES OF EGG PRODUCTS:  Even if a food is labeled egg-free it still could contain some allergy causing egg proteins.  Foods that contain eggs can include:  marshmallows, mayonnaise, meringue, sauces, frostings, processed meat (like meatballs and meatloaf), pudding, salad dressing, pastas, root beer, and some alcoholic drinks.  Nonfood products that contain egg products can include: medications, shampoos, cosmetics, and finger paints.  (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  The study at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that by eating small amounts of egg every day for many months lowered the number of allergic reactions in 75 percent of egg-allergic children; 28 percent were able to incorporate egg into their regular diets after two years on the treatment.  The intent of the study was to develop a new treatment for egg allergy since the only option so far has been to avoid eggs altogether. The study enrolled 55 children and adolescents between the ages of five and eighteen who had egg allergies.  Participants were given small amounts of powdered egg or a placebo to mix into food, eventually building up to the equivalent of a third of an egg.  Children on the treatment did experience allergic reactions to the egg powder during the first couple of months of the study, but none had a severe reaction.  At the 10 month mark, researchers administered an "oral food challenge" to test the study participants' reactions to eating 5 grams of egg powder, which is equivalent to an entire egg.  Fifty-five percent of participants on the treatment passed the challenge without significant allergic symptoms.  None of the participants on the placebo passed the challenge.  Researchers gave another challenge after 22 total months on the treatment.  They were given 10 grams of egg powder, which is equal to nearly two eggs.  Seventy-five percent passed the challenge.  Those who passed stopped doing the treatment.  After two years, those who had discontinued the second challenge were administered a final test.  They were given 10 grams of egg powder and one cooked egg; 28 percent of the original treatment group passed and were able to integrate eggs into their lives.  Dr. Wesley Burks says, "Now, at the end of the third year of treatment it was 45 percent that were able to come off the food and incorporate egg into their diet."  Researchers believe that the study brings hope for treating egg and possibly other food allergies, but further research will be needed.  (Source:


Danielle Bates
Communications Manager
North Carolina Children's Hospital
(919) 843-9714

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