About 5 years ago, my husband woke me up close to midnight and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but my feet are so itchy they are driving me crazy!” How weird is that? We tried to think of what might have caused it, but since I hadn’t changed laundry detergents or anything, we figured it must have just been a fluke. A year or so later it happened again and this time, the hives were going up his legs! We were really confused now because it seemed to be similar to what had happened before, but the reaction was definitely worse. Unfortunately, we couldn’t remember enough about the circumstances surrounding the first reaction to connect the 2 incidents. When it happened a third time, the reaction was worse yet again and we decided he better see a doctor. He saw a friend of ours who ran some tests and said that basically he was not a very allergic person. He said he could do allergy testing but he did not think we would find anything that would explain his symptoms. He prescribed an EpiPen for him to carry and suggested he keep a food journal, which he did for awhile.
We think that the above reactions happened over a 3 to 4 year period with about one reaction per year. In September of 2010, he ate a McDonald’s hamburger at around 2:00pm in the afternoon. When we sat down to dinner at about 7:00pm that night, he was very itchy from his feet on up and I literally watched his arms swell with hives. Over the course of the next 3 hours, he took 3 Benadryl and had zero relief from the itching and swelling. At 10:00pm, he said his mouth and throat felt funny and he thought we better go to the emergency room. By the time we arrived, his whole body was covered in hives. I remember distinctly telling the nurse, “My husband is NOT this color.” They treated him quickly and gave him epinephrine through a nebulizer. His reaction was classified as anaphylaxis. Only after we saw an allergist (Dr. Charles Lane, Allergy Partners of Lynchburg) did we learn that he had the alpha-gal meat allergy.
Two years later, my son had ONE tick bite the first Friday of summer vacation. Ten days later, he had a Laura’s Lean Beef hamburger for a late dinner. He woke me up at 4:00 in the morning and said, “Mom, I think you need to come look at my face.” He was covered in hives! At first, I was confused because it was the middle of the night, but when I remembered what he had had for dinner, I knew exactly what it was. He tested positive for alpha-gal and his number was one of the highest Dr. Lane had ever seen. He thought his number was so high due to the how close the reaction was to the time he was actually bitten. His alpha-gal number was 74.7. This was scary for me since I had my husband in the ER with an alpha-gal level of 30.6!
WHERE WE ARE NOW: Both my husband and son have been off ALL red meat since being diagnosed. I plan to have my son retested this summer to see if his level has gone down since he has not had another tick bite. I will update this blog with his new alpha-gal level. Unfortunately, my husband is a different case. He works outside from spring until fall and thus, ticks are a regular occurrence for him. He hasn’t felt there was any reason to be retested, but I will be sure to update this blog if he changes his mind!
I would love to hear your alpha-gal story. Please reply below.