Mast Cell Activation Disorders (MCAD): Frequently Asked Questions
What are mast cell activation disorders?
They are a group of conditions in which the mast cells in the body do not function correctly. MCAD includes systemic mastocytosis, urticaria pigmentosa and mast cell activation syndrome, among other conditions. Mast cells are responsible for allergic responses. In MCAD, patients can have allergic type reactions to things they are not allergic to. These reactions can be very severe and even life threatening.
What are mast cell reactions?
These are reactions caused by mast cells being improperly activated. These reactions vary from person to person. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to, nausea, vomiting, hives, rashes, itching, flushing (turning red), dizziness, confusion and irritability. Symptoms are caused by the chemicals released by the mast cells.
What causes mast cell reactions?
Triggers vary from person to person. More common triggers include heat, cold, friction (especially on the skin), sunlight, foodstuffs, physical exertion, stress, dyes and fragrances. Triggers can also change over time, with new triggers presenting.
Are mast cell reactions dangerous?
YES. Many MCAD patients will experience uncomfortable reactions throughout their lives. However, every reaction carries the risk of anaphylaxis, a life threatening, severe allergic reaction. Therefore, avoiding reactions as much as possible is very important for mast cell patients. Each patient has an individualized response plan. For many, it involves removal of trigger and administration of medication, such as antihistamines or inhalers.
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction affecting multiple organ systems in the body. These are the kinds of reactions observed in patients with bee sting allergies. Anaphylaxis can be fatal. It is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment, usually epinephrine (Epipen.) Please receive guidance from treating physician on when to use an Epipen.
How are mast cell anaphylaxis and mast cell reactions different from normal allergies (like food allergies?)
With allergies, your body reacts by a specific method that involves ingesting and recognizing the allergen. In MCAD patients, the mast cells incorrectly think many things are allergens. Since mast cells are so sensitive in these people, ingestion of an allergen is NOT necessary to cause mast cell reactions or anaphylaxis. Smelling a perfume or breathing in very hot, humid air is enough to cause a reaction in many MCAD patients.
What causes MCAD?
Genetic mutations cause different kinds of MCAD. Recent studies have shown that mast cell disease can affect multiple members of the same family.
Why do some MCAD patients have spots?
These spots occur in locations where there are more mast cells than usual in the skin. These are NOT contagious rashes. In addition, MCAD patients who do not have permanent spots often have very sensitive skin, which may cause temporary marks or rashes.
How can I help an MCAD patient be safe?
By not being afraid of their disease. Respect their triggers and help them work around these limitations. Reactions can be painful and very scary, especially for kids. Learn the symptoms associated with reactions and be ready to help with a response plan.
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