For those who were wondering about the meat allergy . . I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m over that!
The technical name is alpha-gal syndrome and I find it to be a very interesting “allergy”. For those not reading the blog during the time that I was really having a time with it and no one could figure out what was wrong, here’s a not so brief summary.
We lived in Kentucky from 1997 to 2006, out in the country, with cattle, hay, deer . . all kinds of wildlife all around us. We had a major tick problem. We could walk out on the deck, which was on the 2nd level, and still get a tick on us. We checked ourselves numerous times a day for ticks if we walked outside. Of course, we all ended up with tick bites at one time or another.
The first incident I had, I had been out working in the yard. We had a second house in town and ticks weren’t terrible there and that’s where I had been working. Chad and I went to Steak & Shake about 2:00 p.m., got burgers and shakes, came home, worked more in the yard. About 11 p.m., I started breaking out in hives, and itching with the most intense itching you can imagine. I felt like I was struggling to catch my breath. Thankfully I was in town because I was less than 2 miles from the hospital so I went to the ER. They surmised that at some point, someone had used chemicals around the house and while working in the flower bed, I had come into contact with some residual chemicals that caused the reaction.
At least two more times, it happened in Kentucky but I had not been working outside and the doctors were baffled. I had to keep an epi-pen with me.
Then we moved to MO and I think I went to the ER a couple times there. It was crazy because I’m never really sick, I never have to go to the ER. Had it not been for being covered in hives, I think the doctors would have thought it was mental.
My doctor in Nevada, MO decided it had to be some combination of something I was eating at the same time I was encountering something environmental and the combination was causing the reaction. He did tell me that at the moment I felt the itching, which always started in my hands, to take Benadryl and a long, cold shower.
While we were still living in MO, I had gone to Louisiana to visit my family. Mom, dad and I ate at our favorite greasy hamburger place for lunch. That evening, I went out to eat with a friend and then we went back to her house. That day was July 15, 2009. There were other things that happened that day that caused me to remember the date. The minute I sat down on her sofa, my hands started itching and I told her . . I have to go to the ER. She had her granddaughter and we weren’t far from a hospital so I told her . . you stay here . . I’m fine.
Anyway, I got the shots, my parents came to the hospital to get me because I couldn’t drive afterwards. I was so sure it was something I had eaten with my friend at the restaurant and I was on the road to solving this issue.
Then we moved to Texas. Our neighbor had butchered a cow and gave us some ground meat. He was complaining because the butcher had put too much fat in the ground meat but it made the best burgers.
One afternoon, Vince grilled burgers and he also complained about the fat causing the grill to flare up. We ate about 2:00, and about 11, there came the hives. I took my Benadryl, got in a cold shower and for the first time, didn’t have to go to the ER and didn’t have to use an Epi-pen.
I was afraid to go to sleep for a while because I didn’t want my air passages to swell up and die during the night so I was on the computer. Since we had eaten nothing since breakfast except that hamburger, I googled “hamburger, itching, hives” and came across an article written by Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, who is a British allergist working in Virginia. This had to be in about 2013 . . I can’t remember for sure. In his article, he mentioned this alpha-gal allergic reaction, which was somewhat new and thought to be caused by a tick bite. It was about 2 a.m. and I sent an email to this doctor telling him I thought I had it. He wrote me right back, gave me the info on a doctor he had been working with in Austin so I got in touch with him and was tested and yes, that’s what it was. I gave up hamburgers at that point and have never had a reaction since.
It made sense because there’s a hamburger place in Nevada, MO that we loved and, looking back, I didn’t have a reaction every time I ate there, but every time I did have a reaction, I had eaten there.
I was lucky – some people cannot eat any meat or product from a mammal. No ice cream, no butter, no milk. I never had a problem with those things. I was told to have the blood test done every year because for some people progresses and those who could eat butter and ice cream can get to the point where that causes a reaction. I never had problems with beef other than ground beef that had a high fat content. Also, I was told that it happened rarely, but for some people after a decade or so, it went away. I happen to be one of those people.
The last blood test I had was in 2017 or 2018 and my levels had declined to the point that my doctor felt I could cautiously eat a hamburger again, but advised keeping an epi-pen handy and take Benadryl before eating it. I did as told and would have maybe two burgers a year for the first year or so but now, I don’t even take a Benadryl before eating a burger and have not had a problem. I have eaten at the White Grill in Nevada, MO a few times with no problems.
I wouldn’t eat a burger every day (maybe) but I do think eating a burger even once every month or two is safe. Heck, I may be completely over it and I could get tested again but it was a very expensive test (back when I was doing it, the results could only be sent to one lab which happened to be in Lee’s Summit, MO) and, since I’ve had no problems, I don’t think it’s necessary to get tested again.
Besides not being able to eat meat/products from mammals, there are some cancer treatments as well as some anesthesia drugs that have something in them that can cause a reaction.
It was crazy having a disease that most doctors had never heard of but to answer the question posed in the comment, it didn’t matter if it was storebought or home grown beef . . I had both and had reactions but the good news is, I seem to be over it.
I had planned to finish the rest of the hamburger meat today. It’s been so long since I had to think about alpha-gal but now that I think about it, I think I won’t have it two days in a row. A night with our low predicted to be -10 and the roads covered in snow is a night to take no chances.