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Understanding the Triggers of an Alcohol Intolerance

Do you experience flushed skin, nasal congestion, or hives after you consume alcohol? Or, do you experience sickness after only one or two drinks? You may have an alcohol intolerance.

A true alcohol allergy is rare and most allergic reactions are in response to other ingredients. In some cases, the reaction may be caused by something else in an alcoholic beverage, such as preservatives, grains, yeast, or organic materials.

The most common symptoms include facial redness, hives, nasal congestion or a runny nose, headache, nausea, vomiting, and the worsening of a pre-existing asthma condition.

Here are some common triggers of alcohol intolerance that patients should be aware of:

Wine
Wine contains more than one potential allergen source, including proteins, bacteria, yeast, and organic compounds. Specifically the protein allergen LTP is found in the skin of grapes, making red wine more likely to cause an allergic reaction than other types. (White wine is fermented without grape skins.) The most common symptoms of a wine allergy or intolerance are flushed or itchy skin, runny nose, diarrhea, a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and swelling of the lips, throat, and mouth.

Beer
The gluten protein is found in numerous grains, including barley, rye and wheat, which are commonly used in the beer brewing process. People with a gluten intolerance may experience a reaction after drinking beer, as the body will mount a time-limited response to the protein with a cascade of inflammatory mediators. Many breweries are becoming more responsive to those with gluten sensitivities and are now brewing gluten-free or gluten-removed beers, as we discussed in our previous blog post, 5 Gluten Free Beers You Need to Know About.

Sulfites and other preservatives
Preservatives like sulfites are added to alcohol to keep it fresh and stop the product from spoiling. They can worsen asthma in some patients and may cause hives or even anaphylaxis.

Histamine
Produced by yeast and bacteria during fermentation, histamine may be present in some alcoholic beverages. Histamine is a chemical released by mast cells during allergic reactions. It may cause hives, itching, or sneezing.

Tree Nuts
Alcohols with nut flavorings may contain certain condensed extracts that can cause a reaction in patients with a nut allergy. Patients with a nut allergy should exercise caution with distilled liqueurs that may contain nut extracts.

Tree Pollen
If bourbon or whiskey is your drink of choice, you will want to check how they were fermented, as some of these liquors are fermented in oak or other tree barrels. This could cause a reaction in those with a pollen allergy, or you may experience Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), a series of allergic reactions near the mouth such as itching, burning, swelling, or tightness in the throat.

If you suspect you have an alcohol intolerance and want to be tested or have questions, give us a call. We can be reached at 212-729-1283 or send us an email at info@hudsonallergy.com.

Interested in learning more about alcohol intolerance? Click here to view our infographic, “Understanding the Triggers of an Alcohol Intolerance & the Allergens That Can Cause a Reaction.”