An unusual food allergy is on the rise across the United States. And it could strike anyone – with or without a previous history of allergies.
Caused by a tick bite, this once-rare condition can cause a person to develop an allergy to red meat and, in some cases, to dairy products.
Interestingly, this allergy is triggered by a carbohydrate (known as the alpha-gal molecule) and not a protein like most allergic reactions. Just as fascinating, Alpha-gal allergy is characterized by a delayed on-set of symptoms. Unlike a traditional food allergy which usually causes a reaction very soon after eating, Alpha-gal allergic symptoms typically show themselves between 3 and 8 hours after red meat consumption.
Alpha-gal allergy is spread through a bite from the Lone Star tick. The Lone Star tick can be found in wooded areas and grassy areas in the southeast, east coast and midwest of the United States as well as parts of Canada and the northern portion of South America. It can also be caused by the European Caster Bean tick and the Paralysis tick in Australia.
The best way to prevent a tick bite is by using tick repellant when exploring in the woods and areas of high grass. Wear long sleeves, long pants, and high socks whenever possible on such excursions. Check your skin and hair following an outing. Here’s the CDC’s advice on how to properly remove a tick.
The symptoms of alpha-gal allergic reaction vary from a runny nose, nausea and diarrhea, to hives and anaphylaxis, the most severe form of allergic reaction (review the symptoms and language of an allergic reaction). Just as with a traditional food allergy, those with alpha-gal allergies should treat their symptoms immediately with epinephrine.
To review the symptoms of anaphylaxis as well as how those symptoms may be described by a child, please read The Language of a Food Allergy.
I would love to hear from those who have an alpha-gal allergy!
What has your experience been like?
What are some of the trickiest foods to avoid?
What is the most difficult part of managing this allergy?
How has this changed your perspective?