How to Treat Alcohol Allergy Symptoms

A headache and stuffy nose are just a couple of the typical alcohol allergy symptoms.  Other alcohol allergy symptoms are a slight warmness and redness to the skin around the face, cardio irregularities, stomach discomfort, and hypotension.  If symptoms like these occur when you try to have a drink of alcohol, you may have an alcohol allergy.

What is an alcohol allergy?

An “alcohol allergy” most often results from the lack of the enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH).  ALDH helps to change alcohol into vinegar (acetic acid).  Without this taking place, the alcohol just remains in the body, where it acts like a poison.  In the body’s attempt to resolve this toxic event, symptoms that we normally associate with allergies occur as the body tries to deal with the alcohol poisoning its system.

Typically, those that get alcohol allergy symptoms have a mutation in their ALDH that makes them unable to oxidize alcohol.  Since this enzyme in the liver is the only one that can perform this function, the alcohol pushes into the system where it makes the drinker sick.

One should think of alcohol allergies as in the same class as food allergies, sharing many of the same traits.

Who gets alcohol allergies?

Alcohol allergies are most common in the East Asian community because, as a group, about half of all East Asians have this enzyme mutation in the gene for their ALDH enzyme.  For this reason, alcohol allergies were once known as “oriental flushing syndrome.”


Besides this genetic predisposition, certain antibiotics and anti-fungal medications may also disable the ADLH enzyme, causing alcohol allergy symptoms. 

Are there other ways that you can get alcohol allergy symptoms?

Other than through the disabling of the ADLH enzyme, you might also get allergy symptoms through the effects of alcohol itself.  This may happen in several ways. 

First, alcohol works as a vasodilator.  So when someone becomes intoxicated, his blood vessels expand (“dialate”) giving him a false sense of warmth; people who are drunk, however, and feeling this warming are actually losing body heat.

Second, the sulphites that vintners use to preserve red wine may also cause allergy-like symptoms.  Typically, these sulphites cause dermal reactions and swelling in the throat.  In some severe cases loss of consciousness may occur.  Sulphites also intensify asthma symptoms in about one in twenty asthma sufferers.

Third, if you are prone to uriticaria and angioedema, alcohol may help to exacerbate these conditions just as it does asthma.  Uriticaria, hives, and angioedema, swelling, are those paired symptoms that occur when a person gets raised irritated patches of skin.  One of the more disturbing aspects of hives is that they tend to pop up and go away in more than one location in the body, making the sufferer feel as if they have a malevolent spirit jumping about in his or her body.  Researchers are yet to determine the exact relationship between alcohol and hives.

Fourth, red wines specifically, but most alcoholic beverages generally, are very high in the histamine protein, the same allergy instigating protein that causes the inflammation and swelling common in many allergic reactions.  When drinking, the body will often absorb a high number of these histamines into the blood stream causing or increasing allergic reactions in certain individuals.  To prevent such allergic reactions some individuals take anti-histamines before a night of drinking as a prophylactic measure.

One final way alcohol can give you allergy symptoms is rhinitis—having constant nasal discharge.  Research still needs to identify whether the cause of this form of rhinitis is the increase of histamine or whether there is an alternate pathology.

Therefore, next time you have a drink and start to feel the headaches and runny nose typical of allergies, consider whether you might have an alcohol allergy.




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