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Can You Be Allergic to Alcohol?

Food allergies are more common than ever before but one question that lots of people might wonder about, but is rarely addressed, is can you be allergic to alcohol?

Alcoholic drinks can certainly contain allergen ingredients, but what about the alcohol itself?

Read on to find out about alcohol allergies and intolerances, symptoms and how to treat any symptoms.

Alcohol Allergies vs Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol allergies exist but they are truly very rare and occur when the body see’s alcohol as a dangerous substance and consequently attempts to fight it off, causing an allergic reaction. Often when there appears to be an allergic reaction to an alcoholic drink it has been caused by one of the 14 major food allergens or another allergen being present in an alcoholic ingredient.

Alcohol intolerance also exists and when people have this intolerance it’s because they don’t have the active enzyme needed to process alcohol - aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). This enzyme turns alcohol into acetic acid in your liver. Some people have variants in the gene that codes for ALDH2, this can be common in people of Asian descent. The variant causes the body to produce less active ALDH2 and prevents the body from digesting alcohol properly.*

Some people have an intolerance to histamines. Histamines naturally occur in the body and are found in a range of foods and beverages such as aged cheeses, smoked meats, wine, beer and fermented foods like sauerkraut. When the body doesn’t produce enough diamine oxidase (DAO) to break down histamines, this is when a reaction can occur. This reaction is usually similar to an allergic reaction.

Did you know: Red wine tends to have higher levels of histamine than white wine or beer.

What are the symptoms of alcohol intolerance?

The symptoms of alcohol intolerance include:

  • A red, flushed face
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling hot
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Hives
  • A rash
  • A fast heartbeat or palpitations
  • Low blood pressure
  • A stuffy nose
  • Stomach pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • For those with Asthma, symptoms may worsen

What are the symptoms of alcohol allergy?

The symptoms of allergy to alcohol include:

  • Itchy mouth, eyes, or nose
  • Rashes, Hives & Eczema
  • Trouble breathing, wheezing
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Anaphylaxis - In this instance, 999 must be called for an ambulance and the individual should be injected with epinephrine by using an adrenaline auto injector (AAI).

Common Allergens in Alcohol:

The main common allergens in alcohol are:

How are allergies to alcohol diagnosed?

If you suspect that you have an allergy or intolerance to alcohol or a specific food allergen, it’s advised to make an appointment with your doctor. During the appointment they may chat to you about your family history to see if any of your family have any allergies to foods or alcohol currently or if any of your family members have problems when they drink.

They’ll ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam and either skin prick tests to show if you’re allergic to specific ingredients or IGE blood tests that check for antibodies associated with allergic reactions. For alcohol allergy skin tests, the doctor will place a drop of ethanol on a gauze pad and tape it to your arm, if there are any signs of redness, itching and swelling this will indicate an intolerance to alcohol.

After tests your doctor will advise you to avoid alcohol and cut it out of your diet, this is also known as an elimination diet. After around four weeks it’s possible to reintroduce alcohol into your diet if your symptoms were mild so you can see if it is the alcohol causing your allergy symptoms.

Can you suddenly develop an alcohol allergy?

Allergic reactions may not happen the first time you consume or come into contact with an allergen but allergies can develop at any point in life. If you do experience symptoms of allergy after drinking, seek advice from your doctor.

Are certain people more likely to develop an allergy to alcohol?

There are actually a few factors that might make you more likely to have an intolerance or allergic symptoms to alcohol for example if you’re of Asian descent*, specifically Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Also, if you have hayfever or asthma, if you have any food allergies and if you have Hodgkin's lymphoma or a damaged liver. Other causes of alcohol intolerance might be an intolerance to histamine or sensitivity to sulphites.

How do you treat symptoms for allergies and intolerance to alcohol?

The best way to properly treat an allergy to alcohol and avoid symptoms is to avoid alcohol entirely. Be sure to read ingredient lists of foods and drinks and always ask bar staff or restaurant staff for information about items to avoid products that contain alcohol. If you’re allergic to any food allergens, be sure that they’re not present in any of your drinks.

If you or if you run a food business and your customer is experiencing a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), this is a medical emergency and you must be injected with epinephrine using your AAI and 999 must be called for an ambulance immediately.

If the allergic reaction is mild, over the counter medications such as antihistamines, nasal sprays and corticosteroids can be used to alleviate and relieve symptoms. Corticosteroid creams can treat skin rashes and provide soothing relief for itchy skin. Lotions and creams will help reduce redness and itchiness. Nasal sprays will help congestion. Steroid medicines so any sprays, drops, creams and any inhalers or tablets can reduce redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction and help provide relief from a tight chest and wheezing.

How Erudus can help you manage Allergens

Here at Erudus we offer a number of tools and solutions for Caterers that help you find answers and understand your products and what they contain so you can be clear on allergens and give your customers the answers they need, whenever you need them. Discover how Erudus can help you keep your customers safe, here.

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