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By Boris M | 30 October, 2019 Published in Resources
2

In this post, we discuss alcohol allergies, including the signs, symptoms, causes and treatments of alcohol allergies.

As well as being possible to be allergic to alcohol itself, you may also be allergic to one or more of the many ingredients found in alcoholic drinks.

It’s also possible you may simply be unable to digest alcohol.

If your alcohol allergy is severe, you may have to avoid drinking even minimal quantities of alcohol for your entire life.

If you are slightly allergic to alcohol or associated ingredients, then you may not have to give up drinking altogether.

Alcohol can also make you more vulnerable to other things you are allergic to. This is true even if you are not allergic to alcohol or to other ingredients found in alcoholic drinks.

Alcohol can reduce the amount of an allergen required to cause an allergic reaction to even non-alcoholic substances such as foods and cosmetics.

Can an alcohol allergy be severe?

You are more likely to have allergic reactions to the grain, wheat, or gluten found in alcoholic beverages than to have allergic reactions to the alcohol itself.

A genuine allergy to alcohol itself tends to be more severe than an allergy to grain or gluten.

Even a tiny amount of alcohol can result in a dangerous and terrifying experience for a person who is truly allergic to alcohol.

At worst, an alcohol allergy can lead to difficulty breathing, which can be fatal in the worst cases [1].

Less severe symptoms can include rashes and stomach pain.

Like many other severe allergic reactions, it can lead to anaphylaxis (tightening of the mouth and throat, followed by shock and loss of consciousness), which can cause death.

Is it common to be severely allergic to alcohol?

Thankfully, it is rare to be allergic to alcohol. For those who are allergic to alcohol must avoid all alcoholic drinks even in the smallest quantity [2].

As well as that, they may also have to be careful about ordinary foods that may contain small amounts of alcohol.

Some medicines, for example, are slightly alcoholic, enough to be dangerous to those who are the most allergic.

Fruit that is even a bit past ideal ripeness may become slightly alcoholic due to the fruit naturally fermenting.

Is being intolerant to alcohol less severe than being allergic to it?

An allergy causes the immune system to overreact. Such a reaction can kill a person in the worst cases, although some allergies are merely annoying.

Whether severe or not, allergies always involve the immune system.

Intolerances, on the other hand, affect the digestive system [3].

A person may become sick to their stomach after eating some foods due to not being able to digest them.

While a severe alcohol allergy can kill, alcohol intolerance is never so dangerous. An allergic reaction to alcoholic drinks is not always an allergic reaction to alcohol itself.

Sometimes, specific ingredients in the drink, such as gluten, tree nuts, or grapes, can cause an allergic reaction.

Over-the-counter oral antihistamines can be used to treat mild alcohol-related allergies [4], but it is dangerous to mix Benadryl with alcohol.

However, one who is allergic to alcohol will usually learn to avoid it altogether. An inability to digest alcohol may also cause a person to avoid it forever.

Is alcohol unsafe if one has asthma?

While not everyone who has asthma has to avoid alcohol altogether, it can without question cause asthma attacks in some persons.

Studies show that 33% of people living with asthma claim that alcohol has triggered asthma symptoms before [6].

Red wine is more likely to harm those who have adverse reactions to alcohol in general, including people who may have asthma attacks as a result of drinking.

White wine is much safer for those with asthma. Some people who have other problems with alcohol also prefer white wine, although it can be one of the most allergenic types of drink for others.

One can be allergic to or intolerant to many different substances found in alcoholic beverages.

For this reason, what is the safest type of drink for one person may be the most allergenic for another.

What ingredients in alcohol are most likely to cause allergic reactions?

If one is unable to digest alcohol or is allergic to alcohol, then they may have to avoid all alcoholic beverages for their entire life.

If one is only allergic to some ingredients found in some drinks, on the other hand, then they may be able to continue to enjoy alcoholic beverages.

Beer, whiskey, and especially red wine contain more allergenic ingredients than different types of alcohol. If one has ever had a severe allergic reaction to alcohol, then one should always avoid it.

If one’s reactions are relatively mild, however, then one might experiment with what types of drink one can tolerate.

A doctor can perform allergy tests to check which ingredients one may be allergic to.

Pro tip:  By pricking a person with a needle that contains a small amount of an allergen and seeing how the skin reacts to it, doctors can identify or rule out allergies.

Persons with asthma and other respiratory problems may have respiratory attacks as a result of drinking alcohol.

Asians are more likely to have an alcohol allergy or intolerance than others. Sometimes alcohol intolerance can be caused by severe diseases such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma [6].

How can one best deal with being genuinely allergic to alcohol?

In many cases, permanently giving up all alcoholic drinks is the best idea.

In the most severe cases, one might even have to be very careful about eating or drinking anything that may contain small amounts of alcohol.

Eating fruit or salad dressing at a restaurant might not be a good idea.

Even the tiniest quantities of alcohol may seriously harm the most allergic.

Even if you eat a meal at another person’s home, you should be sure what you are eating. Don’t be shy about your allergy if it is severe.

Let people know that even a tiny quantity of alcohol can harm you, and that overripe fruit can be enough to trigger a dangerous allergic reaction.

One who has a potentially fatal alcohol allergy should also have a plan for what to do in an emergency.

If a single bee sting can kill someone, they are sure to carry an EpiPen around to save their life in a crisis.

Those who are very allergic to alcohol need to take an emergency kit with them at all times, as well.

Those who live with potentially fatal allergies should also carry a medical identification bracelet with them, to make sure that doctors know how to treat them.

If one suddenly loses consciousness without a medical identification bracelet, they may die in the hospital if doctors do not know what to do.

How can one best deal with being allergic to other ingredients found in alcoholic beverages?

In most but not all cases, allergies to ingredients other than alcohol are less dangerous.

One may be able to drink alcohol if one can figure out which types of drinks are safe to consume.

Spirits are the often least allergenic, followed by beer, and then red wine.

White wine can either be one of the best or one of the worst choices depending on the individual.

Sulfite sensitivity

Some may have allergic reactions to the grain, wheat, or gluten found in alcohol. Two ingredients that stand out as particularly problematic are sulfates and histamines.

One who is sensitive to sulfates may have to avoid many foods that may contain them.

About 1% of the population has sulfate sensitivity [7]. Sulfate sensitivity varies significantly in how severe it is.

The brewing process can sometimes create sulfates that end up in wine and beer; brewers may also add extra sulfates as a preservative.

Organic white wine can sometimes be the right choice for those with minor alcohol-related allergies. However, white wine is more and not less likely to contain sulfates than other alcoholic beverages.

If one’s allergy to sulfates is severe, one should avoid alcohol altogether as it is too dangerous to consume beverages that might contain sulfates.

With a less severe allergy, one can often find alcoholic drinks that do not include sulfates.

Intolerance to Histamines

Histamines are another common allergen that can appear in alcohol. Histamines are chemicals that allow the body to fight against infection.

Histamines cause capillaries to open up, allowing white blood cells to travel throughout the body more efficiently [8].

The body cannot necessarily get rid of histamines quickly enough. If histamines remain in the body for too long, there can be health consequences.

Those that are vulnerable to the buildup of histamines in the body may have to avoid certain alcoholic drinks, as they can contain significant amounts of these chemicals.

Histamine intolerance occurs when there is insufficient production of enzymes that break down these chemicals.

Wine and beer often contain histamines. Spirits may be a better choice if one has problems with histamine buildup.

Can one use antihistamine drugs to be able to tolerate alcohol?

Mixing alcohol with the common antihistamine Benadryl is dangerous and should not be considered. Both Benadryl and alcohol cause the central nervous system to slow down [9].

It is hazardous to combine two drugs that both have the same effect, as the two drugs can multiply each other’s effects.

Benadryl is a potent drug and should only be used for its intended purpose. Benadryl can make driving dangerous and should not be used as a sleep aid.

Talk to your doctor about the possibility of using other antihistamine drugs to allow you to tolerate alcohol. It is not always a terrible idea to use drugs to enable one to consume alcohol without problems.

Some people do use medications to allow them to enjoy things that they are somewhat allergic to.

Can adverse reactions to alcohol be a sign of a serious disease?

In some but not many cases, experiencing pain after drinking alcohol can be a sign that one has Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

While the vast majority of people who experience pain after drinking do not have this disease, one should talk to a doctor if they experience any of the other symptoms of Hodgkins.

Is it possible to be intolerant to alcohol without knowing it?

Allergies cause many health problems that one is not aware of the cause of.

These health problems can often be misdiagnosed, leading to ineffective treatment and further sickness.

A person who suffers from an alcohol intolerance may remain unaware of the cause of their symptoms for a long time.

However, a person is likely to notice an association between drinking alcohol and adverse health effects. Therefore, only if their allergy is quite mild, might they not know that they are intolerant.

How does one become allergic to a substance in the first place?

When the body notices that something, such as an insect sting or an alcoholic drink, is a threat, it records that this substance is threatening [10].

The next time a person consumes the element that the body now considers threatening, the body releases white blood cells to deal with the threat.

The body may also release histamines in large quantities as well.

Generally, this is a very positive process that allows the body to fight diseases. Without it, people would frequently become sick and die.

However, the body can sometimes falsely see a minor threat as a severe one in some cases. All allergic reactions involve the immune system overreacting.

Strange as it seems, the body can sometimes overreact to such an extent that the person ends up in the hospital or dies.

How does one develop an alcohol intolerance rather than an alcohol allergy?

An alcohol intolerance may occur if one is deficient in enzymes that break down alcohol.

This type of alcohol intolerance can be inherited.

Liver problems can also cause the body to be unable to break down alcohol, but a genetic trait is more likely.

Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance that builds up in the body if the liver cannot process alcohol properly.

Acetaldehyde is supposed to be broken down into harmless substances by the liver, but this is not possible if the body lacks the correct enzymes.

Those who have inherited difficulties with alcohol are likely to experience red facial flushing after consuming alcohol.

One may also experience an increased heart rate, plus nasal congestion. These are signs that acetaldehyde has mildly poisoned a person.

In the long run, repeated acetaldehyde poisoning can lead to more severe problems, including cancer.

Can any products treat red facial flush as a result of drinking alcohol?

Common antacids can sometimes cause alcohol-related facial flush to go away.

There is also a product known as sunset alcohol flush support that can prevent alcohol-related facial flushing.

Sunset assists the liver in breaking down alcohol to prevent acetaldehyde from building up in the body [11].

It is unhealthy to put the body through allergic reactions repeatedly, so one should be careful about frequently using products to mask the symptoms.

Sunset claims to support healthy liver function for breaking down alcohol, but talk to your doctor about whether you should be drinking at all first.

Is alcohol bad for those who have pollen allergies?

Alcohol can make a person more sensitive to exposure to allergens, including pollen allergens.

Even if one has not been exposed to any pollen at all, alcohol can still cause something that resembles an allergic reaction to pollen [12].

Red wine, in particular, will cause the same nasal reactions that pollen causes for those allergic to it.

Why this is true is not yet well understood; perhaps a person can be allergic to a substance found both in pollen and in red wine.

Are there any natural treatments for alcohol intolerance?

Vitamin C may work to treat a mild intolerance to alcohol because it has an antihistamine effect.

Quercetin may also have an antihistamine effect; CoQ10 is another possibility [13].

If one has a red face as a result of drinking, placing a cold, wet cloth on the rash will help.

These natural treatments are only a good idea for mild adverse reactions to alcohol.

If more severe reactions occur, one should avoid alcohol entirely.

Alcohol, of course, has the power to ruin the health of anyone who uses it to excess.

It is also a legal recreational drug and a potent social stimulant that is part of the culture of many or most countries.

For this reason, people are often very disappointed if they find out that they must avoid it.

One may have to get used to not using alcohol in social situations where other people are drinking.

Rather than avoiding social situations where other people drink, one should learn how to be sober around drinkers.

With a bit of effort, one can learn to be just as socially energetic without the use of alcohol.

References

1. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/12634/acute-alcohol-sensitivity

2. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/12634/acute-alcohol-sensitivity

3.  https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/facial-flushing-is-a-sign-of-alcohol-intolerance/

4. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/other-allergy/alcohol-allergy

5. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/other-allergy/alcohol-allergy

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol-induced_respiratory_reactions

7. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/sulfite-sensitivity

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histamine

9.  https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/other-allergy/alcohol-allergy

10. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/other-allergy/alcohol-allergy

11.  https://getsunset.com/blogs/news/sudden-alcohol-intolerance

12. https://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/effect-ingestion-alcohol

13.  https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=151316

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