Mastocytosis is a condition that affects the immune system. It is characterized by the overpopulation of mast cells in certain tissues and organs. In a normal person, mast cells are found mainly in the skin, the digestive tract and the respiratory system. Mast cells main role in a properly functioning immune system is to release histamine in the presence of a potential invader such as bacteria and fungi. The release of histamine causes many effects in the body, the most important for the immunological system is that histamine is a chemical signal that attracts other players in the immune system like phagocytes and lympocytes. Histamine also causes capillaries to become more porous, which allows fluids to enter the intercellular space. This helps to dilute the concentration of the invaders and makes it easier for the immune system to destroy them.
Because the effects of mast cells are so closely related to an allergic reaction, many of the symptoms of mastocytosis will be similar to an extreme allergic reaction. Some of the major symptoms include
1. Ear, nose and throat inflammation – Because the major role of mast cells are to guard the skin and entry ways into the body, an overpopulation of mast cells will result in excess histamine being released which is especially noticeable in the upper respiratory tract. These symptoms will include a runny nose, itchy eyes and sore throat. In many cases inner ear infection symptoms will also be found, including dizziness and itching in the ear
2. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea- The excess mast cells will also have a notable effect on the upper gastrointestinal system which will result in swelling of the esophagus which will effect normal consumption of food.
3. Increased intolerance to different foods – Because of the increased mast cells, any food allergies and the reaction to them will be amplified.
4. Mal-absorption and nutritional issues – the effects of the mast cells in the upper gastrointestinal system will also cause problems in the small intestines. Certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, calcium and iron will have much lower absorption rates. A long term deficiency in these nutrients may lead to major health problems over time.
While there is currently no cure for mastocytosis, the condition is usually treated with antihistamines which keeps the histamine from performing properly. This usually requires a long term treatment since mastocytosis rarely resolves on it´s own.