Red Meat Allergy? 7 Signs You May Have Alpha-Gal Syndrome

In 2018, as many as 5,000 people were diagnosed with Alpha-gal Syndrome. For some, it is a mildly uncomfortable allergy to red meat. For others, AGS is life-threatening.

In this article, you'll discover the causes, symptoms, and potential treatments of Alpha-Gal Syndrome.

Causes and Symptoms of Alpha-Gal Syndrome

Alpha-gal Syndrome is a fairly recent discovery of an allergic reaction to red meat and other mammal products. It's currently known to be caused by the Lone Star Tick predominantly present in the southeastern US. It's also been found in parts of Europe, Asia, and Australia. A bite from the tick passes on a sugar molecule called alpha-gal that causes a severe immune system reaction in some individuals. This sugar molecule is present in most mammals excluding humans, monkeys, and apes.

Symptoms of Alpha-gal Syndrome:

  1. Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting
  2. Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, eyelids, throat or other parts of the body
  3. Rash, hives, eczema
  4. Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  5. Sneezing, running nose
  6. Headaches
  7. Anaphylaxis

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Alpha-Gal Syndrome

An allergist can determine if you have AGS. You doctor will ask questions about your exposure to ticks. Then they will take a blood test to identify alpha-gal antibodies in your body or perform a skin test. The skin test exposes you to small amounts of the proposed allergen to determine if you develop a bump or a hive. Allergic reactions to the alpha-gal molecule can occur 3 to 6 hours after ingesting foods or products containing it. The severity of the reaction varies from person to person. 

Currently, there is no cure or treatment for an alpha-gal allergy other than avoiding the allergen. AGS can affect anyone of any age but is commonly reported in older adults. Because the primary cause of the allergen is a tick bite, it is recommended that you wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when entering wooden or brushy areas or areas where ticks are present. Check clothing and pets for ticks and remove them as quickly and as safely as possible. Also, use an insect repellent approved by the EPA whenever possible. 

Foods to avoid:

  • Red meat such as pork, lamb, beef, or other mammalian meat products
  • Medicines containing mammal products
  • Cosmetics containing mammal products
  • Vaccines containing mammal products
  • Gelatin
  • Milk products

AGS often goes undiagnosed for years because of varied allergic reactions and lack of awareness. Allergic reactions to the alpha-gal molecule are potentially life-threatening. See a doctor immediately if you are experiencing any signs of an allergic reaction following the ingestion of red meat or red meat products.