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Studies suggest that drinking one or two glasses of wine daily may have some health benefits. In fact, anyone who wants to live a healthy lifestyle may choose to follow a Mediterranean-style diet that includes drinking a glass of wine daily, along with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some fatty fish, lean meat and dairy products. However, some people cannot enjoy their glass of wine, simply because they experience symptoms that cause discomfort and embarrassment after taking some of it.

Turning red or flushing after alcohol intake is a symptom of alcohol intolerance, which affects about seven to eight percent of people. Aside from skin flushing, another common complaint is nasal congestion. Others also develop hives or red, itchy rashes, headache, nausea, vomiting, and low blood pressure. Some people think they have developed an allergic reaction to alcohol, but this is not accurate.

What Causes Alcohol Intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance is a condition that occurs when the body lacks aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), an enzyme that breaks down or metabolizes acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol. Because of the slower metabolism of acetaldehyde, accumulation occurs, causing skin flushing and other symptoms. This condition is caused by genetic mutations, which are often inherited. It is common among Asians, thus it is sometimes called the Asian flush or Asian glow.

Alcohol intolerance may also be caused by ingredients found in alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine, including preservatives, chemicals, grains, and histamine, which is a byproduct of brewing or fermentation. Certain antibiotics, antifungal medications, or disulfiram (medication for alcohol abuse), can also trigger your symptoms when you drink alcohol.

Allergic reactions may be triggered by grains such as wheat, rye, or corn, or by other substances in the alcoholic beverage. To test if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in alcoholic drinks, you may request a skin prick test using the different ingredients.

A rare and serious cause of severe pain experienced after drinking alcohol is Hodgkin lymphoma.

How to Manage Alcohol Intolerance

The best way to avoid alcohol intolerance is to stop drinking alcohol. There are no medications which can prevent or treat the symptoms.

The condition is not a serious medical problem, and some people who want to drink alcoholic beverages once in a while must ask their doctors for advice. Some people take a few measures to reduce their symptoms. These include taking their drinks slowly and in small amounts, and choosing which alcoholic beverages they can tolerate. Some people advise taking food before drinking while others have tried taking over-the-counter antacids prior to drinking. However, there are no studies that prove that these are effective in reducing symptoms or in preventing alcohol intolerance.

To relieve minor reactions, one can take prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines to reduce itching and hives. However, serious allergic reactions need immediate medical attention. Symptoms that indicate life-threatening allergic reaction to alcohol include swelling of the face, lip, eyes and throat, trouble breathing, and weakness.

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