Nine-Step 'Egg Ladder' May Allow Kids With Mild Reactions to Eat Egg-Based Foods: UK Guidelines

Andrew D. Bowser

October 11, 2021

For many children in the process of outgrowing egg allergy, the step-wise reintroduction of foods that contain eggs can be achieved at home using a nine-rung laddered approach, according to updated guidelines from the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI).

Attempts to reintroduce egg into the child's diet can start at the age of 12 months or 6 months from the last reaction, as long as past reactions have been mild to moderate and the child does not have asthma, according to guidelines from the BSACI, which represents allergists, pediatricians, and other healthcare practitioners.

According to the guidelines, the reintroduction needs to be guided by a specialist allergy service for children who have had severe reactions to egg or who have asthma.

Susan C. Leech, MB BChir, DCH, first author of the guidelines and a consultant in pediatric allergy with the Department of Child Health at Kings College Hospital, London, United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News that home reintroduction should begin slowly with small amounts of baked egg, starting with a pea-sized piece of cake, and should proceed gradually.

"Parents can be reassured that it's a relatively safe thing to do as long as it's done with caution," said Leech.

The expanded guidelines include a new nine-step reintroduction ladder. It builds on a three-stage classification of egg-containing foods that was first introduced in BSACI guidelines in 2010.

On the bottom four rungs, children work their way through small but increasing amounts of fairy cakes (cupcakes), biscuits (cookies), and other foods containing baked eggs.

The next three rungs involve hard-boiled eggs, quiche, and other well-cooked egg products.

At the eighth rung, children can have small mouthfuls of runny scrambled eggs, mayonnaise, and other less-cooked or raw egg-containing products. At the top rung, children can have increasing amounts of those products as well as licks of cake batter.

The guidelines were published online September 29 in Clinical and Experimental Allergy along with a supplement that includes a series of examples showing how the guidelines apply to specific patient cases.

"These are examples only," the guideline authors caution in the appendix. "Clinical judgement of severity is important as risk assessment is not always easy."

Anna Nowak-Wegrzyn, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and chief of pediatric allergy and immunology for Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone, New York City, who was not involved in the BSACI guidelines, described the egg ladder as a "proactive" strategy that deserves further study and consideration.

"I think that this may be a valid approach," said Nowak-Wegrzyn in an interview with Medscape Medical News. "Eggs have good nutritional value, and they are present in a lot of foods, so avoidance creates logistical challenges."

Using the egg ladder for home-based reintroduction may be especially suited in resource-poor areas where access to an allergist may be difficult, she said. It may also be suited for families that can't visit the office because of pandemic-related restrictions.

"If the child had a severe reaction or if they have asthma, then it's a no-go," she added, "but if you have a patient who has a really mild reaction and you think that overall the risk of a significant reaction or bad symptoms is low, then it may be worth doing."

Leech and Nowak-Wegrzyn have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Clin Exp Allergy. Published online September 29, 2021. Full text

Andrew D. Bowser is a freelance medical journalist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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