NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – September Norman developed a life-changing allergy about two and a half years ago. She woke up in the middle of the night with a severe reaction.
“My whole body had giant hives all over it at that point. My husband told me my face looked like a giant red balloon. My lips looked like a clown, like I had painted them like a clown. They were so big and red,” explained Norman.
Her husband called 911 and emergency responders arrived just in time.
Upon examination medics told her that her throat could swell shut, blocking her airway, within a matter of minutes.
“He asked me what we had eaten that night that I had the attack and of course we had steak on the grill, we had cheese for appetizers and those are all the culprits,” said Norman.
She also recalled recently getting a tick bite. After testing, doctors determined she contracted the Alpha-Gal allergy.
“He said I had Alpha-Gal, and I went, ‘Alpha what?’ Because I had never heard of it.” said Norman.
The Alpha-Gal allergy is spread by the Lone Star Tick. Ticks get it from other mammals then pass it on to humans. A typical allergic reaction to Alpha-Gal occurs four to eight hours after eating meat from mammals, and in some cases dairy also causes a severe reaction.
Dr. Andrew Nickels with Vanderbilt University Medical Center says about 165 patients at his clinic have tested positive with this allergy.
“I am not sure if we know quite if the Lone Star Tick itself is increasing in the population, or if we are seeing higher numbers of the tick. What we are seeing or what we are able to do is diagnose this Alpha-Gal condition more radially because over the last eight to ten years we’ve been able to identify this syndrome exists. We have really reliable lab tests now,” explained Dr. Nickels.
He went on to say that Alpha-Gal antibody levels can go down over time, especially if you are able to avoid tick bites for several months after testing positive.
“As close as I came to death, it’s not worth it for me to try. I just assume stay away from it because there is more important things in life than red meat and dairy,” stated Norman.
Dr. Nickels said the best way to protect yourself against the Lone Star Tick and contracting Alpha-Gal is to wear insect repellent containing deet.