Diagnosing a disease can be a lot like doing detective work. Doctors start with the “scene of the crime” – the symptoms the patient presented at the time they were brought in – and work backwards to determine the cause. Just like crimes in detective mysteries, the machinations behind symptoms are often much more complex than anyone suspected at the outset. This is true with some types of allergies, too. What is on the surface may seem like a simple two-step process (encounter allergen, develop symptoms) can actually be a multilayered interaction of different environmental factors and disorders.
Take bee venom allergies, for example. An allergic person gets stung by a bee and quickly develops an allergic reaction. Seems like simple cause and effect, right? While that is true in many cases, a small number of people with bee venom allergies also have a difficult-to-detect underlying condition, systemic mastocytosis (SM).
SM is a genetic disease that causes the body to produce too many mast cells, which are the cells in
one’s body that produce histamine and several other mediators that, when released, may cause allergic symptoms. Because mast cells release these mediators when