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Meat Allergy

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Updated May 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Food allergies are very common, affecting approximately 8% of children and 2% of adults. The most common food allergies, particularly in children, include cow’s milk, hen’s eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish and fish. Adults are often allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish – as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, as a result of the oral allergy syndrome related to pollen allergies. It is possible, however, for a person to be allergic to any type of food.

Meat allergy, such as to beef, pork, poultry and lamb is uncommon, likely due to meats usually being cooked before being eaten. Cooking reduces the allergenic nature of foods by breaking down the proteins responsible for allergic reactions – if the protein causing the allergy (called the allergen), is broken down by heat, then the allergic antibody (IgE) no longer recognizes the protein, and the allergic reaction doesn’t occur.

Allergic reactions to meats do occur, and people can experience a number of different reactions after eating meats. These most commonly include typical food-allergic reactions that occur within minutes of eating, and may include symptoms of urticaria and angioedema, gastrointestinal symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea), respiratory symptoms (such as wheezing and coughing), and anaphylaxis. Other food allergy reactions to meats include eosinophilic esophagitis, food-protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), as well as delayed allergic reactions due to carbohydrates in the meat (called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose or alpha-gal).

Beef Allergy

Allergic reactions have been reported to just about any form of meat imaginable, although the most common by far is beef. Beef allergy is more common in young children, particularly in those with eczema, and can occur in up to 20% of children with cow’s milk allergy. Also, up to 93% of people with beef allergy are also allergic to cow’s milk. People with beef allergy may also be allergic to beef gelatin, which may also result in allergic reactions to certain vaccines.

Poultry Allergy

Allergic reactions to poultry, such as to chicken and turkey, are even less common that allergy to mammalian meats. Again, this is likely due to the cooking of poultry meat prior to eating – which tends to be even more "well-cooked" than beef due to the concern for food poisoning from undercooked poultry. Some people with egg allergy also have respiratory allergy (such as allergic rhinitis and asthma) caused by down feathers, which is called the bird-egg syndrome. Only a small percentage of people with bird-egg syndrome are also allergic to chicken meat.

Pork Allergy

Allergic reactions have been reported to pork meat as well as to wild boar meat. Certain people with respiratory allergies to cat albumin can also be allergic to pork meat. This relationship is termed the pork-cat syndrome and caused by the similar structures of cat albumin and pork albumin. Most people who are cat allergic experience symptoms due to the major allergen, Fel d 1, and therefore aren’t allergic to pork meat.

Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose Allergy

Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (also known as alpha-gal) is a carbohydrate found in mammalian meats (including beef, pork and lamb) and has been found to cause severe allergic reactions. Allergic reactions to alpha-gal occur 3 to 6 hours after eating mammalian meats, far longer than typical allergic reactions to foods, most of which occur within 30 minutes. Most people with allergic reactions to alpha-gal have been previously able to eat mammalian meats, and at least one study suggests that tick bites are a risk factor for the development of allergy to this carbohydrate.

Traditional allergy tests to commercial allergen extracts of beef, pork and lamb are often negative in people with alpha-gal allergy. The diagnosis, which takes a high clinical suspicion given the delayed reaction after meat consumption, can be made through skin testing to the fresh cooked meat that caused the allergic reaction. Blood tests are also commercially available to test for the presence of allergic antibodies to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose.

The treatment of meat allergy is identical to the treatment of other food allergies.

Source:

Commins SP. Allergy to Meats. UpToDate®. June 2012.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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