Ask the Allergist | Allergic to red meat?
Q. Have you ever heard of anyone who has developed hives, swelling and anaphylaxis 3-6 hours after eating certain forms of red meat? This recently happened to me after eating sausage for dinner. I ate around 6pm and awakened from my sleep with severe abdominal cramps. I thought the sausage had disagreed with my stomach. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I felt itchy, noticed my face was red and my eyes and lips were swollen, with small hives all over my body. By the time I arrived at the local emergency room, my blood pressure was very low and I was hospitalized for anaphylaxis. I have never had an allergic reaction to a food, and before this recent episode, I ate sausage on a regular basis. The doctor and nurses in the ER stated that it was quite unusual to have an allergic reaction to a food so long after eating it.
A. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia, red meat allergies may be much more common than previously thought, and may even induce potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis in some people. This recent study suggests that as many as half of all unexplained food allergies may be attributed to a mammalian meat allergy. Mammalian meats include beef, pork and lamb. The researchers tested 3 groups of people across the Southeast United States with a history of anaphylaxis without known cause, for an immune reaction to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (also known as alpha-gal), a kind of sugar found in mammal meats. The study found that between 20-50% of the participants tested positive for allergy to alpha gal. 42% of those tested showed signs of meat allergy. If you think you might have such an allergy, consider being evaluated by a board certified allergist and discuss having further testing done.