Rare and bizarre allergies you need to know about

Head of Allergy clinic at Westmead Hospital Dr Daniel Suan and Head of Allergy Clinic at Blacktown Hospital Professor Sanjay Swaminathan

If playing with a friendly neighbour’s dog makes your eyes water and itch, it could be a sign of an allergic reaction – but don’t get discouraged from having a furry friend of your own just yet.

Recent studies show that some individuals might only be allergic to male pets!

In conjunction with World Allergy Week (13 – 19 June) we spoke to Professor Sanjay Swaminathan, head of Allergy Clinic at Blacktown Hospital, about some rare and unique allergies.

Male dog allergy

A pet allergy is an immune response to the proteins or other allergens from an animal. These usually attack the eyes and airways often resulting in hives, eczema, asthmatic or hay fever symptoms.

Professor Swaminathan said certain proteins produced in male dogs’ bodies were the ones causing allergic reactions in some patients.

“F5 is one of several major dog protein allergens. It is produced in male dogs’ prostate and spread to the skin and hair, ending up in the air, on furniture or clothing,” he said.

“If you’re allergic to only that specific protein in the male dog, you may be able to tolerate a female or a neutered dog.

“Studies have shown similar gender effects in other pets such as male cats, which can lead to worse allergies. However, this field is very new and more studies are required to determine this effect.”

 Mammalian meat allergy (MMA)

Also called “the Alpha-gal syndrome”, this food allergy can occur after consuming red meat and other products made from mammals. This condition begins after a tick bite.

The bite transmits a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the person’s body. As a result, a person may develop mild to severe allergic reactions to red meat, such as beef, pork or lamb, or other mammal products.

“Very few people bitten by a tick will develop MMA,” Professor Swaminathan said.

“The symptoms of MMA are usually delayed by a few hours, sometimes waking a person in the middle of the night if they consumed meat for dinner.

“This can make it difficult to link the two events because other food allergies occur very soon after eating food.”

Up to 60% of MMA cases include symptoms of anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

Get urgent medical help if you start experiencing delayed stomach pain, itching, shortness of breath, tongue swelling or fainting.

Wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis (WDEIA)

This rare food allergy exclusively occurs when eating wheat is followed by physical activity.

“This condition is so rare, I would only see one new patient a year,” Professor Swaminathan said.

“Even if you have it, you may not know about it if these two factors do not coincide.

“There is no established drug for preventing WDEIA. Once it is diagnosed, patients are advised to either avoid wheat, or if they can’t, wait a few hours in between consuming wheat products and exercising.”

Western Sydney Local Health District operates two allergy clinics at Westmead and Blacktown hospitals.

Westmead Hospital Allergy clinic team. Registered nurse Julie Frost, Head of Allergy Clinic at Blacktown Hospital Professor Sanjay Swaminathan, registered nurse Yee Cheng, Head of Allergy Clinic at Westmead Hospital Dr. Daniel Suan.

The clinics provide allergy testing and allergy immunotherapy, better known as seasonal and venom “allergy shots”.

”A human body can develop an allergy to pretty much anything,” Professor Swaminathan said.

“It can be challenging to find out what exactly triggers an allergic reaction, so sometimes it’s detective work for us.

“If you have any symptoms of an allergic reaction, come and see an allergist. We have a set panel of common allergies we test for with skin prick tests, and there are blood tests for some of the rarer allergies.”

To access Blacktown or Westmead allergy clinics please see your general practitioner for a referral.

If you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or an asthma attack, please call 000.