Understanding alpha gal allergy symptoms: what you need to know

Alpha gal allergy, also known as alpha-gal syndrome, is a relatively new and fascinating form of food allergy.

Unlike traditional food allergies, which typically manifest shortly after ingesting certain foods, alpha-gal allergy can take hours to develop. This delay in symptoms can make it challenging to identify the trigger food, leading to confusion and frustration for those affected. In this article, we will explore the symptoms of alpha gal allergy, its causes, diagnosis, and potential treatments.
Understanding alpha gal allergy symptoms: what you need to know

What is alpha gal allergy?

Alpha-gal is short for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, a complex sugar molecule found in the meat of mammals such as cows, pigs, and sheep. When someone with alpha gal allergy consumes meat containing this molecule, their immune system produces an allergic reaction. Unlike most food allergies, which involve proteins, alpha gal allergy is triggered by a carbohydrate.

Symptoms of alpha gal allergy

The symptoms of alpha gal allergy can vary widely in severity and may include:

Delayed onset

One of the hallmark characteristics of alpha gal allergy is its delayed onset. Symptoms typically develop several hours after consuming mammalian meat, making it challenging for individuals to identify the trigger food.

Hives and itching

Many people with alpha gal allergy experience hives, itching, or a rash. These skin reactions can be mild to severe and may occur anywhere on the body.

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Gastrointestinal symptoms

Digestive symptoms are common in alpha gal allergy and may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Respiratory symptoms

Some individuals may experience respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

Anaphylaxis

In severe cases, alpha gal allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention.

Causes of alpha gal allergy

The exact cause of alpha gal allergy is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to tick bites. Lone Star ticks, found predominantly in the southeastern United States, are known to carry alpha-gal molecules in their saliva. When a tick bites a human, it can transfer alpha gal into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and potentially leading to the development of alpha gal allergy.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing alpha gal allergy can be challenging due to its delayed onset and the variety of symptoms it can cause. A healthcare provider will typically begin by taking a thorough medical history and performing a physical examination.