Have you been experiencing intermittent bouts of symptoms like headache, runny nose, and hives lately? Maybe you've even had some more serious allergic breakouts involving anaphylaxis or wheezing. There are a whole host of medical conditions that could potentially be to blame, but one possibility to consider is alpha-gal syndrome. Here's a closer look at what this condition involves.
What is alpha-gal syndrome?
Put simply, alpha-gal syndrome is an allergy to red meat. It us not typically something people are born with. Rather, it will suddenly develop later in life. Usually, the condition comes on after a person is bitten by a specific kind of tick, known as the Lone Star tick. This tick is pretty common throughout the eastern portion of the United States. It is reddish brown with a white dot on its abdomen. Since these ticks are not deer ticks and do not spread Lyme disease, most people are not overly alarmed when they get bitten by one. You might have been bitten by a Lone Star tick months ago, and now that you've almost forgotten the incident, you're suffering from alpha-gal syndrome as a consequence.
How do the symptoms line up?
The symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome are primarily those of any allergic reaction — itching, swelling, hives, and a runny nose. Some people experience anaphylaxis. What sets alpha-gal syndrome apart from other allergies, and what makes it hard to diagnose, is the fact that these symptoms don't come on right away. They appear a few hours after you've consumed red meat — not right away. So if you suspect red meat may be the cause of your issues, think back on the outbreaks you've had. Did you eat anything containing red meat in the 12 hours prior?
How is alpha-gal syndrome diagnosed and treated?
If you suspect you have this condition, definitely tell your doctor, especially if you know you were bitten by a Lone Star tick. Tell your doctor even if you can't recall a tick bite. Sometimes people are bitten and don't realize it.
Your doctor can administer a blood test to determine if you do, indeed, have alpha-gal syndrome. This is simple and relatively painless. Unfortunately, if you do have the syndrome, there is really no way to make you unallergic to meat again. You will simply need to avoid red meat and keep an antihistamine, and perhaps an EpiPen, on-hand in case you have another reaction.