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Some people think that when a person turns red and his skin feels warm after drinking an alcoholic beverage he may be having an allergic reaction to alcohol. This is a very common reaction but true allergic reaction to alcohol is quite rare. Instead, one may be experiencing alcohol intolerance, a more common abnormal reaction to alcohol.

What is Alcohol Intolerance?

Intolerance to alcoholic beverages is a genetic condition characterized by the liver's inability to break down or metabolize alcohol (ethanol) to acetaldehyde then to acetate. This leads to the appearance of symptoms such as skin flushing, nasal congestion, and headaches. Skin rashes or hives may also appear, leading people to think of an allergic reaction. Other symptoms include warm skin, runny nose, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting. Palpitations and low blood pressure may also be experience.

The symptoms of alcohol intolerance are brought about by the accumulation of acetaldehyde in the blood, which causes a reaction similar to those caused by increased histamine release.

Some alcoholic beverages such as red wine may also contain histamine, which can trigger the reaction.

In other cases, the body reacts to some other ingredient in the alcoholic beverage, such as grains, preservatives, or other chemicals that can trigger an allergic reaction, which is not due to the alcohol itself.

What is Alcohol Allergy?

An allergic reaction to alcohol is rare.

The immune reaction is triggered by drinking just 1 ml of pure alcohol contained in 10 ml of wine or beer.

The symptoms are similar to those manifested in other types of allergies and these include the appearance of hives, itching, nasal congestion, upset stomach, difficulty breathing, and unconsciousness.

As mentioned earlier, one may manifest an allergic reaction to other ingredients contained in the alcoholic beverages, such as grapes, sulphites, barley, wheat, rye, hops, yeast, and other food additives. People who are allergic to these substances may experience hypersensitivity reactions to the beverage, thinking that it is the alcohol itself that is causing their symptoms. Furthermore, studies show that asthmatic individuals may experience more severe reactions with alcoholic beverages if they are also allergic to some substance in the drink.

Other reactions to alcohol may be related to its drug-like activity when it is taken in large amounts, causing unpleasant hangovers.

The only way to avoid either an allergic reaction or intolerance to alcohol is to avoid drinking it.

Minor symptoms may be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine medication. However, severe reactions may be life threatening and immediate medical help is needed. Individuals who have a known allergy may use their emergency epinephrine/adrenaline autoinjector such as EpiPen before medical help arrives.

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