How to Know if You’re Allergic to Alcohol?

Alcohol allergy

Have you ever woken up with a hangover so terrible that the usual stuff like ibuprofen, electrolytes, and sleep doesn’t do the trick, and you start regretting that last round of tequila shots?

After a long night of vodka sodas, have you ever felt like your alcohol tolerance may not be as much as you thought it was?

Well then, I hate to break it to you, but it might not be the tolerance that’s a problem here; there’s a possibility that you’re allergic to alcohol.

Sounds wrong, right? I mean, it’s alcohol, and it’s your one-way pass out of reality for a night, and you realize you’re allergic to it?

Below are some things that can help you tell if you’re allergic to it.


Difference Between an Alcohol Intolerance and an Alcohol Allergy

First, you should come to terms with the fact that when you’re allergic to alcohol, it means any alcohol—beer, wine and hard liquor can all pose problems for you.

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It’s not certainly the ingredients that go into making these drinks but the process that makes them alcoholic that’s a problem.

Second, it would help a lot if you’re able to differentiate between an intolerance and an allergy to alcohol.

Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Heath point that intolerance to a component in a drink like a histamine or yeast induces a much less severe reaction like nasal congestion, diarrhea, nausea and mild itching, as compared to an allergy where all these reactions are amplified.

Not only will these reactions be acute, but they will be accompanied by wheezing, difficulty swallowing, low blood pressure, and heart palpitations.

One thing to keep in mind while consuming alcohol is that an allergic reaction can be hasty and abrupt.


Triggers for an Alcohol Allergy

Certain kinds of alcohol like whiskey, cognac, and tequila contain more congeners (a naturally occurring by-product) as compared with others, and can most definitely lead to an extreme allergic reaction.

However, the triggers don’t cease there. Sulfites are often associated with wine, but sulfites are also found in dry fruits. Anyway, reactions to sulfites are milder than an alcohol allergy.

Histamine, a naturally materializing compound in the body, found in beer and wine can also be responsible for allergic reactions to alcohol. Dr. Glatter says that if beer seems to be an issue for you.

In particular, then it’s probably the yeast in the beer. Beer drinkers will find that have an allergic reaction like itching, superficial rashes, nausea, nasal congestion, wheezing, but it’s not the beer itself, it’s the yeast proteins that they might be allergic to.

On a side note, beer is not gluten-free, which can be a problem for people with a digestive intolerance or celiac disease. Thankfully, there a few gluten-free beers available in the market.

1. Red, Itchy skin

If there are times when you consume alcohol, and your skin becomes itchy and red, it’s time to think about the possibilities of an alcohol allergy.

This kind of skin irritation can also be accompanied by rashes or hives. This kind of reaction also occurs because of histamine. The reason behind this reaction could be the inability to metabolize the histamine.

A particular enzyme called diamine oxidase is responsible for the breakdown of histamine. Hence, less amount of this enzyme could result in an inflammatory, allergic reaction to alcohol because they’re not able to digest the alcohol properly.

Level of histamine is quite considerable in beer and wine, but it varies based on alcohol content.

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Your body reacts to alcohol as a foreign invader and creates antibodies when it comes to any other allergen. These antibodies cause histamines to release, which results in the red and itchy skin.

If the body isn’t able to process these histamines, it induces a build-up, resulting in uncomfortable skin conditions.

2. Heart Palpitations

Starting to feel flushed or begin sweating on your forehead and if your heart starts racing, it means that you might be having a negative reaction to alcohol because of your body’s inability to metabolize it properly. (On a side note, heart palpitations can also take place due to excess caffeine consumption.)

In this case, there is a depletion of enzymes required for breakdown of histamines in the liver.

Also, some people have a gene variant (ALDH2), which keeps the body from producing aldehyde dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps break down alcohol.

If your heart starts racing or your body temperature skyrockets after drinking, then your liver may not be able to effectively manage alcohol consumption.

3. Facial Swelling

Often it’s the swelling of the lips and the tongue that should give away the fact that you have an allergic reaction. (Men can experience penile swelling in the instance of anaphylaxis.) This is again due to histamines.

Swelling along with difficulty swallowing and breathing, low blood pressure and dizziness can take a trip to the ER to quickly relax your muscles.

4. Wheezing

An alcohol allergy can cause your throat to feel tight like it’s closing up. People might experience wheezing, coughing fits and shortness of breath.

People with sinus problems can have more difficulty with alcohol as compared with people who do not have sinus problems.

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So if you have asthma, frequent colds, and any other respiratory complications, any of the symptoms associated with alcohol allergies could be acute for you. It would be wise to get a second opinion from a medical health professional.

5. Diarrhea and Nausea

If you’re repeatedly going to the bathroom with painful abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, other forms of indigestion or any one thing mentioned here, then an alcohol allergy is possible.

If it happens after drinking without any changes in your diet, then I would suggest you take a trip to the doctor and get yourself checked up for an alcohol allergy.


How to Test for an Alcohol Allergy

If you’ve noticed any of the above symptoms when you drink, then it’s time to pay attention to your alcohol intake and what triggers the allergy most.

Dr. Glatter specifies that a skin prick test can be performed by an allergist to check if you’re allergic to alcohol. You might see a raised bump known as a wheal or urticaria.

An oral test in the presence of an allergist is another option. Or blood tests that check for enzymatic deficiencies in alcohol metabolism.

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Sources:
“5 Signs You Might Be Allergic to Alcohol,” https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/5-signs-you-might-be-allergic-alcohol, Shape web site; last accessed on May 16, 2018.

Dr. Mark Williams, MD

Dr. Mark Williams is a leader in alternative and integrated medicines. He is a medical writer and reviewer at Daily Health Cures. He received his medical degree in 1988. Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Daily Health Cures editorial team. He is a natural health advisor and provides a variety of alternative healing techniques in his practice.