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Why Can't Infants Eat Egg Whites?

By Alison Grewal

Eggs are inexpensive, a good source of easily absorbed and utilized protein and an excellent source of a vast array of essential nutrients including biotin, pantothenic acid, folate, riboflavin, selenium and vitamin B12. Eggs are a recommended part of most diets, but egg whites can trigger an allergic reaction in your baby and pose a serious threat to his health.

Allergy Definition

If your baby develops an allergy, it means their immune system is overreacting to an invading, unrecognizable substance know as an allergen. As a defense mechanism, your baby's body produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E, which in turn causes body cells called mast cells and basophils to release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream. If your baby has an allergy to egg whites, they produce antibodies that react to one or more of four proteins in the egg white, which include ovomucoid, ovalbumin, ovotransferrin, and lysozyme.

Signs and Symptoms

The release of histamine triggers symptoms such as an itchy skin rash, nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. If your baby develops hives, develops facial or throat swelling, or seems to have difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.

When to Introduce Eggs

While it is perfectly safe to introduce egg yolks to your infant beginning at eight months, you should avoid egg whites until one year. The egg must first be boiled in order to successfully separate the yolk from the white. Be sure to only offer your baby eggs that have been carefully handled, properly refrigerated, washed and then hard boiled. These steps are important in order to reduce to the risk of bacterial contamination by harmful pathogens such as salmonella.

The Seven-Day Rule

Be sure to only offer one new food to your infant at a time and do not offer more than one new food every seven days. That way if your baby does indeed have an allergy, you can easily identify the food that is the cause. This is especially important when introducing foods containing common allergens such as egg whites.

Prevalence and Duration of Egg Allergies

Babies and toddlers commonly develop egg allergies, and children whose parents have egg allergies face an increased risk of having allergies themselves. One to 2 percent of pre-schoolers have egg allergies. But luckily, if your baby does have any form of egg allergy, he likely will grow out of it by age 5.

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