Mast cells are a type of blood cell in the body. Mast cells are stored in the body’s connective tissue and can be found near the blood vessels, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory tract. These cells contain histamine and cytokines, both of which are responsible for symptoms patients experience during an allergic reaction. The components of mast cells can be released into other parts of the body by triggers such as physical injury, allergic reactions, bacteria, viruses, and venoms.
While mast cells are a necessary part of our immune system, patients with mast cell disease have abnormal or overactive mast cells that lead to uncomfortable and possibly life-threatening symptoms. Symptoms can be triggered by heat, cold, temperature change, stress, exercise, insect bites or stings, alcohol, contrast dyes, medications like NSAIDs, foods, or environmental factors. Mastocytosis and mast cell activation syndrome and two different mast cell diseases. These conditions can be present at birth, or may not develop until childhood or adulthood. The severity and frequency of the symptoms experienced by patients with a mast cell disorder can vary.
Patients may experience multiple of the following symptoms:
- Skin flushing, itching, rashes
- Nasal congestion, wheezing
- Abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
- Brain fog, headaches
- Weak bones, bone pain
- Blood pressure changes, palpitations, fainting
Mastocytosis is a genetic disorder that results in abnormal growth of mast cells. Common symptoms of mastocytosis include diarrhea, bone pain, skin itching and a rash. There are 2 types of mastocytosis:
- Cutaneous – only the skin is involved (more common in children)
- Systemic – the whole body is involved (more common in adults)
A thorough workup will be required to confirm the diagnosis of mastocytosis. Your provider may order labs or a biopsy of the affected tissue. Allergy testing may also be required. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, our specialists at Columbia Allergy will create a plan to help reduce your symptoms. This plan may include medications to reduce your symptoms and help to prevent attacks.
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Mast cell activation syndrome is a condition in which a patient’s mast cells react too often and at inappropriate times. Patients with mast cell activation syndrome will have symptoms that affect multiple body systems. These patients will have multiple episodes with the symptoms of anaphylaxis:
- Skin flushing or paleness, or skin rash, including hives
- Swelling in your mouth, throat, or elsewhere in your body
- Wheezing,coughing, chest tightness, or difficulty breathing
- Stomach cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Passing out
- A feeling of impending doom
Our providers at Columbia Allergy will order testing such as labs and allergy tests to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other causes of your symptoms. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, our providers will prescribe medications, including an epinephrine auto-injector and possibly even injectable biologic medications to reduce your symptoms and help prevent attacks.
If you are suffering from a mast cell disorder, call your nearest location or schedule an appointment online today!