You're probably aware that ticks spread dangerous diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. What you may not realize is ticks can also cause you to develop a serious allergy to red meat. The condition is called alpha-gal syndrome. Here's what you need to know.
The Relationship Between Ticks And Alpha-Gal Syndrome
This allergic condition is a fairly recent discovery, so scientists aren't certain of the relationship between the allergy and ticks. However, the incidence of the condition is highest in areas where lone star ticks are the most prevalent, and people who receive multiple tick bites seem to have more severe meat allergies. The lone star tick has the closest association with alpha-gal allergy in the United States, but other types of ticks transmit the condition in other countries. The female lone star tick is easy to identify because of a large white dot on its back.
How A Tick Bite Can Trigger A Meat Allergy
Alpha-gal is a sugar molecule that's found in mammals other than humans and primates. When a tick bites an animal in the woods, such as a deer or raccoon, the tick picks up the alpha-gal molecules and then transmits them to you when you get a tick bite. This can cause an immune response that results in an allergic reaction when you eat red meat in the future. The reaction might be a mild case of hives or itching, or the reaction could be life-threatening. Swelling of the airway and anaphylactic shock are possible. The allergic reaction caused by eating red meat doesn't happen right away, unlike other common food allergies. The allergic response is delayed for several hours, and this can make diagnosing the condition difficult.
The Treatment For Alpha-Gal Syndrome
Treatment for food allergies, and this type of meat allergy in particular consists of avoiding the trigger. When you've been diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome, you'll need to avoid eating any type of red meat or you could have a life-threatening allergic reaction. This could happen even if you've only had mild or no reactions in the past. For that reason, your allergist will probably prescribe an epinephrine injection pen for you to carry in case you ingest meat or meat-derived products accidentally. Always read labels to make sure you don't eat anything that was made from meat or that has meat as an ingredient.
How To Reduce Your Risk Of Developing This Allergy
Protecting yourself from tick bites is essential. Use tick spray on yourself when you go in the woods, go camping, or walk in weeds. Check your pets for ticks and have your yard treated to keep ticks away from your home. You can also buy tick sprays made for use on tents and outdoor equipment so you don't bring ticks home from an outing. Always check yourself for ticks after you've been outdoors, and run your clothes through a hot wash and dry cycle to kill small ticks you may not see easily.
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