Could You Be Allergic to Alcohol?

If you enjoy having a glass of wine with dinner or a few beers at happy hour, you're certainly not alone.  But have you ever found that even a small amount of alcohol causes you to have a negative reaction?  If so, you might have an alcohol intolerance.  Read on to find out if your symptoms point to this diagnosis.

Alcohol Allergy or Intolerance?

The experts say there is no such thing as a true alcohol allergy, but there are some conditions that can look and feel very similar. Many people who think they have an alcohol allergy are actually sensitive or intolerant to alcohol instead. This, like other food intolerances, causes you to have a variety of negative reactions that may resemble an allergy but don't actually involve an immune system response.

Symptoms of alcohol intolerance or sensitivity can come on quickly and may include:

  • Headache
  • Rapid pulse
  • Congestion and other nasal symptoms
  • Rash, hives or irritated skin
  • Stomach distress, including heartburn, nausea or vomiting and pain

When Ingredients Make You Sick

If your reaction to alcohol goes further than food intolerance, this means that your immune system could be kicking in. And according to experts, it's likely that you aren't allergic to the alcohol itself but to one of the ingredients that are contained in the alcoholic drink.

For instance, some people can be allergic to the sulfur dioxides, or sulfites, used to preserve wine. Other possible culprits include the yeast in beer and additives.

Histamine Connection

In addition, did you know that the same histamines that your body releases during an allergy attack are also contained in some of the alcoholic beverages you drink? The histamine occurs when the bacteria and yeast in alcohol mix. Just keep in mind it is a small amount usually (although red one has more than white) and not much is usually ingested. Nonetheless, it could be enough to cause you to experience nasal allergy symptoms, as well as triggering asthma.

Signs of an Allergic Reaction

Some of the other symptoms of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in your wine or beer can include:

  • Tingling mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling of your tongue, throat and lips
  • Difficulty breathing

Get the Facts

To determine if you are having a true allergic reaction, and if so, what could be causing it, you should see an allergist or your primary care doctor to get to the root of the cause. He or she may suggest blood or skin testing to measure your body's reaction to a variety of substances. This can be helpful so you know what to avoid so your next drink doesn't end up making you sick.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology