The vast majority of people who come to believe that they are suffering from an "alcohol allergy" are, in fact, reacting to allergens within the alcohol they are drinking, rather than alcohol itself.
Common allergens encountered in alcohol include:
- Histamines, which are particularly present in many red wines.
- Sulfur dioxide and other sulfites, which are often present in home-made beers and wines.
- Barley, hops, rye, wheat, grapes, and other primary ingredients of particular alcoholic beverages.
It is also possible — though rare — to be allergic to yeast, something that is a suspected cause of true "alcohol allergies".
Alcohol Allergy Symptoms
If you are one of the very few people who are allergic, truly allergic, to alcohol itself as opposed to ingredients in particular alcoholic drinks (in which case, by the way, you are quite likely to also have an also rare vinegar allergy), your symptoms are likely to include breathing difficulties, severe abdominal pain, and even loss of consciousness.
Should you, instead, be allergic to specific components that are found in some alcoholic beverages, your symptoms may include:
- Urticaria (hives) and even anaphylaxis if you are reacting to sulfites.
- Nasal congestion, swelling, and sneezing if you are reacting to histamines within the alcohol you are drinking.
- Headaches, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, a rapid and irregular heartbeat, nasal congestion, and heartburn if you are allergic to some of the ingredients found in your alcohol.
It is also very important to be aware of the fact that drinking alcohol can increase the "potency" of unrelated food allergies that you may have, as well as worsening asthma symptoms in asthmatic people.
Allergy Vs Intolerance
Another thing to be aware of is that the terms "allergy" and "intolerance" are often confused, not in the least because the two can produce very similar symptoms.
An allergic reaction is one in which the body's immune system reacts to the point that the allergy can become life-threatening, with systems across the body being affected. An intolerance, meanwhile, can arise when the body is missing an enzyme needed to process the found in question.
It isn't possible to determine whether you are allergic or intolerant just by checking symptom lists, nor can you know whether you are allergic to alcohol, intolerant, or reacting to an ingredient only contained within certain kinds of alcohol, through self-testing. (Rather, you could try, and if, for instance, wine makes you react but not whiskey, you may gather some information. If it goes wrong, however, you may find yourself in the danger zone: true allergies can be fatal if not treated in a timely manner!)
If you have been experiencing any of the above symptoms following alcohol consumption, whether you are new to alcohol or had been drinking socially for many years already, you will need to seek medical help. An allergist is a good first point of call.
Meanwhile, if you have experienced bad reactions to alcohol, refrain from drinking until you get some answers. It is possible that you will be able to resume social drinking and will simply need to avoid certain drinks that contain ingredients that you react adversely to. In rare cases however, true alcohol allergies will be diagnosed and you will need to refrain from drinking altogether.
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