By Nick Austin, Meteorologist / Reporter - bio | email
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB-TV) -- A year ago Dr. Susan Raschal read a brochure connecting tick bites with certain food allergies.
"I thought, hm, this is interesting. But I had never seen a case of it. So I didn't really pay a whole lot of attention to it," said Raschal.
That is until a month ago. She's had three patients exhibiting what seemed like the odd condition she read about. After connecting many dots Raschal realized eating certain foods after an assault by the tick added up to bad news.
"It causes an unusual reaction and that they then become or can become allergic to non-primate mammalian meat," explained Raschal.
If foods like beef, lamb, pork, or deer meat are ingested after being bitten, the results could be painful.
"Lips swelling. Your tongue swelling. Difficulty breathing," said Raschal.
Dairy can do a number on some people, too, but for now chicken is safe.
Unlike with normal food allergies, though, the symptoms of this condition may not appear for up to eight hours, causing misdiagnoses or undiagnosed.
The particular bugger at the root of the problem is the Lone Star tick, found abundantly in the south and hanging around longer than usual since much of the late fall has been mild.
Severe reactions first happened to D.J. Henderson in 2008 and resulted in a visit to the emergency room after a fishing trip.
"I was just red from head to feet. And I could feel, even in my hair, my head was swollen," explained Henderson.
He was treated for the symptoms and continued taking antihistamines, but the reactions persisted.
"I was scared," admitted Henderson.
A year later he saw Dr. Raschal who ordered testing and confirmed Henderson's condition. His blood work was off the charts for the antibody which causes the condition.
He's been much better since. But as an avid outdoors man and with no cure for the condition, he's become a near vegetarian to avoid further outbreaks.
"I've got a freezer full of venison which my wife will enjoy, I'm sure," said Henderson, laughing.
Raschal says avoiding the types of meats mentioned is the only way to prevent the reactions. However, in the case of an accidental ingestion she says to arm yourself with an auto-injectable dose of epinephrine. Then immediately go to a hospital.
Most of all, Raschal says information is power. "The more that people hear about this condition they're going to be telling their friends, their family members," said Raschal.
She also recommends that if you're diagnosed with this unusual allergy, wear a medical alert bracelet in case of an emergency.