November 12, 2019

Alcohol and Allergies

Alcohol and Allergies

Can you be allergic to margaritas? Technically, yes. But a true alcohol allergy is extremely rare.

Most patients who consistently react after drinking an alcoholic beverage have alcohol intolerance, which means that drinking even small or moderate amounts of alcohol (ethanol) causes unpleasant sensations. This metabolic disorder affects the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme, which controls the breakdown of ethanol/alcohol in the body. Symptoms can include everything from facial flushing to low blood pressure, nausea, and nasal congestion.

Certain medications can also increase sensitivity to alcohol. Alcohol intolerance is not the same as intoxication. People who are alcohol intolerant are not more likely to become drunk after drinking small quantities of alcohol. Their metabolic condition does not increase blood alcohol levels. In fact, the unpleasant reactions associated with alcohol may deter heavy drinking.

Sensitivity to alcohol may also occur due to allergic reactions to various compounds found in alcoholic beverages. Sulfites used as preservatives in wine are known to cause an allergic response in some people.

Many other ingredients, both naturally occurring and added, could provoke allergic reactions, including:

  • Barley
  • Egg whites
  • Histamine
  • Hops
  • Oats
  • Tyramines
  • Wheat
  • Yeast

Monitoring symptom patterns and ingredients consumed can help pinpoint what ingredient is causing the trouble, which will make it easier to find drinks that won’t cause discomfort. For instance, red wine has fewer sulfites than white, while white wine has lower histamines than red.

Many people report that drinking alcohol ramps up their existing allergies. Scientists have found this to be true. Not only can alcohol decrease the amount of an allergen needed to trigger a reaction, but it can also make a reaction worse and lessen the time it takes for the onset of symptoms.

The bottom line is, pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. Whether you break out in hives when you have a beer or suffer through worsening hay fever symptoms during a night on the town, do some detective work to see if you can eliminate the problem by determining the source of the symptoms. If you can’t get to the bottom of it yourself, seek the expert guidance of an allergist.

Greater Austin Allergy Asthma & Immunology