Typically, when someone has an allergic reaction, it doesn't take long to find the culprit allergen. They begin by recounting what they came in contact with or ate, and then they get tested to see if they have an allergy to that substance. However, for some people, allergic reactions happen frequently with no definable or recognizable trigger. The problem lies in how their body's mast cells malfunction. For these people, it can take a long time to get a proper diagnosis due to the lack of awareness in the medical community.
In fact, it wasn't until October of 2016 that mast cell activation syndrome was assigned an ICD code (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems). Here's what you need to know if you or your child has unexplainable allergic reactions.
What is a mast cell, and what happens when mast cells malfunction?
Mast cells are a type of blood cell that have an important role in the immune system. Mast cells react to allergens and injuries by releasing what are called chemical mediators, which is what histamine is, to help protect and heal the body. However, when mast cells malfunction, they can cause several things to happen:
- mast cell activation syndrome: This is a condition in which too many mast cells are activated, and this causes the overproduction of mediators.
- mastocytosis: This is a condition in which too many mast cells are produced, which causes too many mediators to be released.
Too many chemical mediators in the body causes allergic reactions such as wheezing, flushing of the skin, diarrhea, itching, hives, low blood pressure, shortness of breath, headaches, body aches, fatigue, weight loss, gastrointestinal problems, and/or anaphylaxis. Mastocytosis can also cause bleeding disorders, mast cell leukemia, intestinal malabsorption, and enlarged lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.
Proper diagnosis of a mast cell disorder is done by an allergy specialist
Now that you have an understanding of what may be happening, you may recognize other symptoms that you may have dismissed or thought were caused by some other medical condition. To get a proper diagnosis for a mast cell disorder, you will need to see an allergy specialist.
Therefore, it's important to have medical records regarding all possible related symptoms with you when being seen by an allergy specialist. With a proper diagnosis, you will be able to begin treatment right away, which typically consists of pharmacological options to control the mast cells and the chemical mediators they produce.