The Most Common Alcohol Allergy Symptoms

The Most Common Alcohol Allergy Symptoms

Have you ever consumed alcohol and immediately felt unwell and wondered if you might be allergic to it?

Although true alcohol allergies aren’t common, some people do experience adverse reactions to alcoholic beverages. In this blog post, we’ll explore the common alcohol allergy symptoms and other intolerance reactions, differentiate them from true allergies, and discuss how to identify what specifically might be triggering your symptoms.

What Is an Alcohol Allergy?

An alcohol allergy is a rare health condition that sees your immune system, which usually fights germs and sickness, mistakenly fight against even the slightest amount of alcohol as if it’s a life-threatening danger to your body. This reaction from your body is not very common.

Even though an allergic reaction to alcohol is very rare, what is more common is something called alcohol intolerance. This means your body has a hard time handling alcohol properly. Many people who think they have an allergy to alcohol may actually just be intolerant to it.

This intolerance can also be due to other ingredients found in alcoholic drinks, like chemicals or natural substances, which can upset your body.

Common Alcohol Allergy Symptoms

If a person has a true allergy to alcohol, they can get very sick quickly, even if they drink just a little bit. Here are some signs that might show up if someone is allergic to alcohol:

  • Skin reactions: Their skin might turn red and become itchy, or they might get hives, which are red, itchy bumps.
  • Swelling: Parts of their body, especially their lips, throat, or face, can swell up fast. This can happen very suddenly.
  • Breathing problems: It might become hard for them to breathe. Their throat could feel tight or like it’s closing up.
  • Stomach issues: They could feel pain in their belly, get sick to their stomach, or even throw up.
  • Dizziness: They might feel dizzy or like they are going to faint.

These alcohol allergy symptoms are serious and can be extremely dangerous. If someone starts having these symptoms after drinking alcohol, they need to get emergency medical assistance right away to make sure they are safe.

Alcohol Intolerance & Sensitivity to Alcohol

More commonly, people have what’s known as alcohol intolerance. Research suggests that it seems to be also more common in those of East Asian descent. However, this may involve genetic factors that affect how alcohol is metabolised, specifically an enzyme deficiency that leads to adverse reactions when consuming alcohol.

Alcohol intolerance can be described as when your body struggles to process alcohol effectively. This condition often leads to discomfort after drinking alcohol.

Unlike alcohol allergy symptoms, which can cause severe and (in some cases) life-threatening reactions, the effects and symptoms of alcohol intolerance are generally milder but still quite noticeable and uncomfortable. It’s important to recognise how your body responds when you drink alcohol, as this can help manage any discomfort.

Common alcohol intolerance symptoms can include (but are not limited to):

  • Looking flushed (red face or skin).
  • Experiencing headaches.
  • A blocked nose /general nasal congestion.
  • Having an upset stomach.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • A general feeling of being hungover.

Apart from intolerance, some might react to ingredients in alcoholic drinks like yeast, hops, barley (in beer), grapes (in wine), or certain chemicals added during processing.

What Causes Reactions to Alcohol?

When it comes to why different people react differently to alcohol, there are a few main reasons:

  • Genetics: Some people don’t have the right amount of enzymes to break down alcohol properly. This can make alcohol consumption, in general, quite uncomfortable for them.
  • Ingredients in Drinks: Alcoholic drinks are made up of more than just alcohol. They have other ingredients that can cause reactions. These could be extra flavours or preservatives in beer or natural substances that come from the grapes in wine. Depending on what you’re sensitive to, these ingredients might cause a negative reaction when drinking alcohol.
  • Histamine and Sulfites: These substances are found in some alcoholic drinks and can be tricky for some people. Histamine is naturally in drinks like wine and beer and can cause allergy-like symptoms for those who are sensitive. Sulfites are added to keep wine fresh but can also cause problems, especially for people with asthma or similar conditions.

Can You Randomly Develop An Alcohol Intolerance?

Yes, you can develop an alcohol intolerance that wasn’t previously apparent to you.

Alcohol intolerance symptoms happen when your body has difficulty processing alcohol due to various reasons. This can develop over time due to natural changes in your body’s enzyme levels.

The primary enzyme for breaking down alcohol is alcohol dehydrogenase, which converts alcohol into acetaldehyde (a toxic compound). Another enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, then quickly breaks down this toxic compound into a less harmful substance called acetate. So, if these enzymes are deficient or inefficient – this toxic compound builds up in the body, leading to symptoms of intolerance.

Symptoms of alcohol intolerance can also start to appear later in life due to genetic factors, health conditions affecting the liver or stomach, or even due to medications that interfere with alcohol metabolism.

How Are Alcohol Allergies and Intolerances Diagnosed?

If you regularly have bad reactions after drinking, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP. They might suggest one of the following:

  • Skin Tests: To check for allergies to specific ingredients.
  • Blood Tests: To assess how your body processes alcohol.
  • Elimination Diet: Temporarily remove alcohol and certain foods from your diet to see if symptoms improve.

How to Manage Negative Reactions to Alcohol

If you suspect you’re allergic or sensitive to alcohol, there are a few steps you can take to reduce and manage your symptoms:

  • Cut Back on Alcohol: Try to limit how much alcohol you consume. Less alcohol means a lower chance of triggering your allergy or sensitivity.
  • Choose Your Drinks Carefully: Not all alcoholic beverages will affect you the same way. So, pay attention to how different drinks impact you. For example, if you’ve noticed that beer tends to make you feel a bit under the weather, consider switching to a different type of drink, like wine or a distilled spirit. These might be easier on your system.
  • Keep Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is so important, especially when consuming alcohol. Make it a habit to drink water before, during, and after your alcoholic drinks. This can help dilute the alcohol’s impact and ease your symptoms.
  • Consider Medication with Caution: Sometimes, an over-the-counter antihistamine might help manage mild allergic reactions. However, it’s very important to talk to your GP before trying any medication. They can confirm whether it’s safe and appropriate for you to use these medications with alcohol.

What Should You Do If You Have Bad Reactions to Alcohol?

Most people who have bad reactions to alcohol have either an intolerance or are sensitive to something in the drink rather than a true allergy. Understanding the difference and knowing what triggers your symptoms can help you manage your reactions.

If your symptoms are severe or you’re not sure what’s causing them, it’s important to consult with a medical professional. Feel free to reach out to our team.