Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

People’s Pharmacy: Tick bite allergic reaction was almost fatal

By Joe Graedon, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. A friend had a severe anaphylactic reaction hours after eating a hamburger and barely made it to a local emergency room. They diagnosed him with alpha-gal, which is how I heard about it.

A couple of years ago, I began to have severe stomach cramps and diarrhea after a tick bite. When my family doctor tested me for tick-related reactions, we learned my alpha-gal antibodies were very high.

I stopped eating meat and dairy products. To avoid gelatin, I even opened capsules and put the contents in applesauce to take them. After 18 months, my antibody levels had dropped a lot, so I am starting to eat meat again.

With so many deer around, I am sure many other people will also have to deal with this bizarre condition.

A. Lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum) trigger alpha-gal allergy, but the reaction is to food rather than to the bite itself. As you discovered, the reaction to consuming mammalian meat can range from diarrhea and stomach cramps to wheezing and anaphylaxis. People who experience a life-threatening allergic reaction as your friend did need to keep injectable epinephrine on hand. The primary means of controlling alpha-gal reactions is to avoid consuming meat and, for some people, dairy.

Q. You wrote recently about people who have trouble with regularity when they are traveling. Here’s my solution. Taking magnesium citrate capsules at bedtime helps me sleep in a new bed and move my bowels in the morning. Magnesium also helps prevent muscle cramping after an active day.

A. Thank you for sharing your multi-purpose supplement. Magnesium has laxative properties, so getting the dose right may require some trial and error.

A recent review of clinical trials found that many reported that magnesium improved sleep (Cureus, April 29, 2024). In addition, readers report that magnesium supplements may alleviate restless legs. You can learn more about this in our “eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.” This online resource is available under the Health eGuides tab at

Q. I dread flying if my allergies are active, as my ears hurt when we get ready to land. If I must fly during allergy season, I take a decongestant and use a long-lasting spray like Afrin before the flight. During the descent, yawning with my mouth closed, like trying to stifle a yawn, helps relieve the ear pressure.

The spray works wonders, but I have to be careful to use it only for a short time. Otherwise, rebound congestion is a big problem.

A. When you are congested, the eustachian tube connecting the middle ear to the nose and throat becomes blocked. This tube equalizes pressure between the atmosphere and the middle ear.

When a plane descends, cabin pressure changes rapidly. That can cause ear pain if the eustachian tube isn’t open. Swallowing or yawning helps. So does chewing gum. As you have discovered, a decongestant also can be helpful but should only be used for a few days.

Q. I followed the advice of a radio doctor to take up to eight ibuprofen tablets per day for several weeks for a foot injury. I damaged my kidneys. Now I stay away from NSAIDs.

A. The over-the-counter dosage for ibuprofen is one 200 milligram pill every four to six hours, not to exceed six in a day. Ibuprofen can damage the kidneys, especially in susceptible individuals. You are wise to avoid this class of pain relievers going forward.

In general, it makes sense to treat the advice of radio doctors with caution. That means verifying recommendations with your health care provider.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”