During this immune response, antibodies (IgE) to alpha-gal are produced to protect the body from this carbohydrate which it perceives to be a threat. IgE antibodies are one of 5 classes of antibodies produced in the body and the one most commonly involved in allergies and allergic reactions. With subsequent consumption of food containing alpha-gal, IgE antibodies are released which bind to the foreign carbohydrate and trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals causing an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of a meat allergy can include:
- Hives or skin rash
- Nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea
- Stuffy/runny nose
- Anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that restricts breathing
At present, treatment of alpha-gal meat allergy involves avoidance of eating meat from mammals. Should mild symptoms occur despite avoidance efforts, treatment with antihistamines or corticosteroids should help. Anaphylaxis, also known as "anaphylactic shock", is a true medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include swelling of the tongue and throat, constriction of the airways, a weak and rapid pulse, and dizziness or fainting. Treatment typically involves administration of oxygen, anti-histamines and injectable epinephrine. People with meat allergy should consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g. EpiPen) in case of a reaction.
Non-mammalian meat (fish, chicken, turkey, etc.) does not contain alpha-gal, but milk and some milk products have been suspected of triggering the allergic reaction. Gelatin and protein powder with whey may also contain alpha-gal. Although most common in the southeastern U.S., alpha-gal meat allergy could occur in any area of the country where lone-star ticks are present. Other ticks, including the European Castor Bean Tick and the Paralysis Tick in Australia have also been implicated in the development of meat allergy.
Sources for article:
Researchers Tie Tick Bites to Serious Red Meat Allergy from Medscape
Meat Allergy from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
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Kent Davidson MD - Health Tip Content Editor
Reviewed and Approved by Charles W. Smith MD, Medical Director on 6-22-2016.