Alcohol Allergies: Do They Exist?

Can I be allergic to alcohol? Although a true alcohol allergy is rare, and the reaction can be severe, most allergic reactions to alcohol are due to an ingredient in alcohol. Every person’s body chemistry and make-up is different, so a person's response to alcohol can vary greatly. A true alcohol allergy tends to be inherited.

Often, a true alcohol allergy is termed alcohol intolerance. Although research is limited, people with a true allergy to alcohol should avoid drinking. Research indicates that the enzyme, aldehyde dehydrongenase, metabolizes alcohol in the liver into acetic acid (vinegar). A person who has an allergy to vinegar can then have a severe reaction to the alcohol. Others can have a polymorphism in the ALDH gene, which renders aldehyde dehydrongenase inactive and makes it impossible to convert alcohol to acetic acid. The second type of intolerance or allergy is more common among the Asian population, and symptoms may include flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat.

Common Allergens found in Alcoholic Beverages:

  • Yeast
  • Hops
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Sodium metabisulphite
  • Egg protein or seafood proteins
  • Histamines (common in red wines), sulphites (common in white wines)
  • Grapes (due to the chemicals used to dust the grapes)
  • Gluten
  • Wheat

Symptoms

Symptoms and severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. Symptoms include severe rashes, difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, stomach cramps, or collapse. If you are someone who has food allergies or asthma, you are more likely to have a reaction to alcohol. Your symptoms that you experience to alcohol can be similar to the reaction you experience when consuming the ingredient you are allergic to.

  • For person who has a true allergy or low intolerance to alcohol, a small amount of alcohol can cause breathing difficulty, stomach cramps, and collapse.
  • A person who has a deficiency of aldehyde dehydrogenase that breaks down the alcohol usually experiences flushing and can also experience nausea and rapid heartbeat.
  • A person allergic to sulphites may experience hives and anaphylaxis.
  • A person allergic to histamines may experience congestion and nasal swelling.
  • Alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal lining and increase the reaction to food allergies.
  • Alcohol high in sulphates can increase asthmatic symptoms, including wheezing, for people who are asthmatic.