Beef Allergy – It’s Official!

2 years ago (almost to the day)  I wrote a post about my suspicions that I became Beef Intolerant. Last week my allergist confirmed that in fact I am allergic to beef. Looking back I didn’t document my hospital trips, because that’s so fun to reminisce, right? My last trip to the hospital was during my honeymoon in 2013.

My honeymoon was a real delight, and for the most part I can’t complain… except that part where I ended up in the ER after having one of the most delicious prime rib dinners the day before. We spent the first two night’s of our honeymoon at The Madonna Inn. The last night there we ate at Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steakhouse, a genuinely wonderful experience. We left the next morning and took the gorgeous drive up California State Highway 1 from Morro Bay all the way up to Monterey then cut across to get on the 101 to stay with friends in Richmond. The drive up was incredible and gorgeous! I was feeling fine until the last hour of our drive. I wasn’t feeling particularly well and had a small fear I might have food poisoning.

We arrived at our friends’ home where they were kind enough to feed us a delicious plate of lasagna with bolognese sauce. It was late when we arrived so socializing was minimal and everyone soon went to sleep. About 20 minutes into sleep I woke with that familiar pain I’d experienced in April. I figured I could manage my symptoms and went to use the restroom. Things escalated quickly and my symptoms of discomfort quickly turned into anaphylaxis. It was about 12:30am, so I woke Chris to inform him what changed while I tried to down a couple of Benedryl. We had no idea where the nearest hospital was so we had to wake our friends who insisted on driving us in. I spent the next 6 hours in agony. For some reason the 3 different ER Drs who examined me and knew I was experiencing an allergic reaction, but decided that Benedryl was my only hope and didn’t give me epinephrine until I requested it over 5 hours into the agony. Then it was like a light bulb went on for them. As ER Drs, why didn’t any one of the 3 that examined me think of this first? I got a shot of epinephrine and left the ER about 1-2 hours later, feeling exhausted, but no longer suffering symptoms and with a prescription to carry an epi-pen.

My poor husband! He had never experienced such a medical crisis with anyone before and was entirely beside himself on what to do. Also, because they doped me up on pain meds it was not safe for me and my IV to walk to the restroom down the hall unassisted so he got to experience that, over and over and over.  At this point we had barely been living together, just 2 weeks, I hadn’t yet farted in front of this man, and now I’m a terrible physical mess of being swollen with hives, vomiting, and having diarrhea, all while barely conscious. Not really how I had envisioned my honeymoon, ya know?

After that oh-so-fun and exciting experience I was officially off beef. It was the last time I had consumed any. From this point on I needed to be mindful, which was sometimes difficult because it was easy to forget about. My beef intolerance was inconsistent and then it was a full blown allergy. Seriously, who the heck is allergic only to beef and bison?!

Last year I began seeing an allergist. I told him about the beef allergy and his eyes lit up. At the ER the Drs had no clue what I was talking about and may have assumed I was full of it, but here, the allergist knew exactly what I was talking about and had an answer for me… Alpha Gal! He also explained that ER Drs aren’t trained to deal with the wide range of allergies so he wasn’t surprised when I told him about my visit to the ER and the confusion on the Drs faces when I explained I thought it might be an allergic reaction to beef.

Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or Alpha-Gal for short, is a delayed allergy to mammal meat affecting a growing number of the population. This allergy is initially caused by a tick bite. Since the reaction to eating mammal meat is delayed by several hours, the proper diagnosis is often missed or misdiagnosed. People who are afflicted with the Alpha-Gal allergy have to be constantly vigilant about the ingredients they consume, because an allergic reaction can be severe and life-threatening.

But then we ran into a small problem, to my knowledge I’ve never had a tick bite so it’s all the more unlikely I’ve ever been bitten by a lone star tick, the tick they think is to blame. Also, I can still eat pork, elk, wild boar, and other meats that many other’s can’t. My Dr thinks it’s possible I consumed beef that had been bitten by the tick and by doing so my body created antibodies that way and now I’m allergic to beef.

I get it, it sounds weird. It is weird. Heck, until 3 years ago I could eat beef with no real problems.

Cutting beef from my diet reminded me a bit of quitting smoking. I smoked for 13 years, but I quit when I was 26. The hardest cigarettes for me to quit was the one after dinner and those I’d have while hanging out with friends who also smoked. In like fashion I began to miss cheese burgers, prime rib, corned beef, pot roast, beef ribs, chili, pastrami and Ruben sandwiches… oh the list went on and on. Obviously I had to make adjustments and after 2 years it’s been pretty good. I’ve been able to replace a number of things with turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, or elk. Oh, the first time I had an elk burger it was like having a beef burger, but without all the bad side effects. It was the tastiest damn burger ever!

One of the biggest adjustments was hosting my annual chili cook off. I skipped 2013 because we lost our beloved BigBoy kitty around the time I would normally host the competition and I simply didn’t have the energy do it that year. So last year I hosted my chili cook off, it was our 10th. There was already a veggie/white chili category so at least I was able to enjoy that, but I wasn’t able to try many of the competitors, including the winner for the Best Meat Chili category, and that was just kind of a bummer. I mean, I’m handing out an award with my name on it to the winner of an item I was not able to eat. The silver lining in all of this? My allergy encouraged some extra creativity from competitors so we had more competitors with turkey and even one featuring kangaroo meat.

We live near Little Saigon and the Korean Business District in Orange County and eat at many of the local restaurants so I need to be very mindful of the food I’m eating. I was already allergic to shrimp and now with beef I need to check everything because oddly, beef or shrimp are added to a number of dishes I might not have previously worried about. I just have to ask if either item is in anything because they get slipped into the soup base or inside an egg roll or dumpling. Fortunately, there’s also a lot of vegetarian options at many of these restaurants as well.

This diagnosis also answers the mystery of my ER visit a few years previously. It was before I’d ever suspected beef as the culprit, but I’d been rushed to the ER in anaphylaxis, the same symptoms I had on my honeymoon. We knew it was an allergy, but at the time I thought something I’d eaten earlier that day might have shrimp in it because nothing else made sense. I did however, have a steak. Fortunately, that ER was awesome and immediately put me on an IV of epinephrine, which was the only reason I even thought to ask for it at the ER on my honeymoon. It took a few hours for the symptoms to subside, but they did. For years I had no idea what the allergic reaction was from.

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