Alpha gal is a type of carbohydrate which is present in many mammals, but not in humans. It is found in meat of cow, bison, sheep, pigs, etc. In some people an autoimmune response develops when they eat meat of such animals. It occurs because the body system in these people gets loaded with immunoglobin IgE on coming in contact with the alpha gal for the first time. Bites from certain ticks called lone star ticks can transfer this carbohydrate into the victim after biting animals having alpha gal.
People having allergy to alpha gal may develop allergic symptoms such as hives, itching, swelling of lips, breathing difficulty etc.People may also become allergic to alpha gal after eating meat of animals having this carbohydrate. Treatment consists of abandoning eating meat of such animals and prevention of bites from lone star and similar ticks.
Causes Of Alpha Gal Allergy
Many people eat animal meat having alpha gal as one of its component, but they are not allergic to it. However, some people are born with allergy towards alpha gal. Usually we have heard people having allergy to animal protein, but in rare cases there are few others who are allergic to this carbohydrate called alpha gal.Normally the allergic manifestation develops in adults, although it can occur in children too in rare instances.
In majority of cases alpha gal allergy develops after bite of certain type of tick called lone star tick. This tick is prominently found in certain parts of United States and Australia. Once alpha gal enters into the body of susceptible person, the immune system triggers a reaction that will initiate a reaction. People may also get allergic reaction after eating meat of certain mammalian animals having alpha gal after the tick bite.
Signs And Symptoms Of Alpha Gal Allergy
The signs and symptom of alpha gal allergy is similar to any other allergy symptom. The underlying pathophysiology is the same. Release of histamine produces the symptoms due to autoimmune reaction caused by excess amount of immunoglobulin IgE. Most reactions are delayed type. Usually they occur 3 to 8 hours after eating meat of mammals having alpha gal.
Here are following symptoms that need to be noted:
- Severe itching all over the body.
- Eruption of hives on skin.
- Swelling of lips and throat.
- Intestinal upsets resulting in diarrhea and vomiting.
- Itching in upper palate.
- Itching in eye
- Watering of eyes
- Running nose
In severe form the patient may experience trouble while breathing and asthma like symptoms. Alpha gal rarely produces anaphylaxis shock.
Treatment And Prevention Of Alpha Gal Allergy
Treatment of alpha gal is similar to any other allergic reaction. It consists of antihistamine medicines once the symptoms develop. If the symptoms are severe or life threatening, patient may need administration of epinephrine. It is yet to be found whether the allergy lasts for a long time. But it is believed to be an acute episode which may be relieved after proper treatment. It is not a chronic lasting condition. However, the symptoms may crop up again if the lone star tick bites again.
Once the patient is known to be allergic to alpha gal, the best preventive measure is to stop eating meat containing alpha gal. Sometimes other products such as gelatin that is used in medications or dairy products may contain alpha gal must be discontinued or consumed with all precautions.