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My Failed Food Challenge

A few months ago, after discussing it with my allergist and parents, I decided to do a food challenge for eating baked eggs. A food challenge is when you eat small dosages of a specific food at an allergist's office/medical facility to determine whether you’re allergic to that food. You’re monitored for reactions, and if everything is going well, you will be steadily given more doses over a set period of time. With a baked egg challenge, you eat an egg that is baked into a portion of food, such as a muffin or bread. Other allergens also have raw and baked food tests, such as milk.

About nine years ago, I had done a food challenge for oats. I ate doses of a chocolate-chip granola bar, and I loved it. Unfortunately, my immune system did not. I had made it to the final dose of oats when I had a reaction of coughing and hives and had to use my Epi-Pen. This led to the food challenge being considered a failure, and I’m still allergic to oats. What I learned from this challenge, however, is that, at the time, I would need to eat a large amount of oats before I would have a reaction. While I continue to avoid oats to this day, this was interesting to learn. This experience led to me eventually deciding to do a baked egg challenge years later.

In early 2020, I was discussing doing the baked egg challenge with my parents again. I have struggled with food allergy anxiety that had made me hesitant to eat eggs, a food I had been avoiding for my entire life, even in a food challenge. We had decided to discuss this with my allergist that summer, but then COVID sidelined those plans. This brings the story to February of 2022 when we set the date for my food challenge.

We booked the appointment for a day I had off school, because doing a food challenge takes a few hours, regardless of whether you pass or fail the challenge, and you’ll need to be monitored for the rest of the day for any symptoms that may come later. I arrived prepared with a book to read and a TV show downloaded to watch in between eating bites of the food. Before the appointment, my mom baked banana muffins with egg and was careful to not use any of our regular baking tools in case I failed my food challenge.

Once I arrived at the appointment, we went over what I was going to be eating and how the food challenge was going to work. Then, my allergist separated the muffin into the correct dosage sizes, with the first being the size of a pea. With my mom, allergist, and a nurse watching, I ate a spoonful of a baked egg muffin. This was the first bite of egg that I had eaten in 14 years.

As I swallowed the tiny bite of the muffin, my allergist continued about how I had a high chance of passing the challenge. About thirty seconds after eating the muffin, however, my mouth started to feel tingly on the side where I had chewed the food. A few seconds after that, it began to feel extremely itchy. It was a different kind of itch than the itch I would sometimes get after eating pineapple – it felt like the inside of my mouth was being scratched by tiny needles.

At this point, I interrupted my allergist and said that my mouth was feeling itchy. They decided to wait a few more minutes to see whether it would go away, but after the itchiness spread down my throat, the challenge ended. I had failed my baked egg challenge less than five minutes into it.

I took some Claritin to alleviate my symptoms and settled in to wait for the next few hours. Over those next few hours, the itchiness in my mouth and throat slowly faded away, and a stomach ache I had developed went away as well. Once about two hours had passed and I was feeling better, I headed home, feeling a little bit disappointed, but also a bit relieved.

I felt relieved because I wasn't sure how I would manage eating baked egg every day, in the present and future. I had been feeling nervous prior to the challenge about how I would be able to consistently eat allergy-friendly food with a baked egg every day once I went off to college, especially if I went out of state. I had also been feeling unsure about how to explain to people what passing the challenge meant since I would still be allergic to eggs.

From this experience, I learned that I was still allergic to eggs, whether baked or not. I also gained some more confidence in managing my food allergies. While it was scary to eat a food I knew I was allergic to, being able to respond and resolve the reaction quickly was somewhat comforting. It helped me realize that in an emergency situation, I could do it again. I also was able to get a better sense of what my allergic reaction to eggs would look like since it had been such a long time since I had eaten them. Overall, despite having failed the food challenge, I’m glad that I took the leap and finally did it.


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