Alcohol Allergy and Intolerance

As allergy specialists Centreville, VA patients trust may attest, while it is possible to be allergic to alcoholic beverages, an alcohol allergy is relatively rare.  Most of the time, it is an intolerance and not an allergy to the alcohol that is bothersome to an individual.  An intolerance is basically an unwanted side effect of the alcohol.

True alcohol allergies can occur and generally are not an allergic reaction to the alcohol itself, but more likely an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the alcoholic beverage.  Some of the ingredients that may cause a true food allergy include barley, rye, wheat, corn, hops, grapes, egg, and yeast.  Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and can be the same symptoms that one experiences with alcohol intolerance (discussed below), which is why contacting an allergy specialist Centreville, VA has to offer may be crucial.

Most individuals that have reactions from drinking alcohol, however, have alcohol intolerance.  Some of the symptoms commonly associated with alcohol intolerance may include facial flushing, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath, generalized itching (pruritus)hives (urticaria)swelling (angioedema), decreased blood pressure, and/or anaphylaxis.

If you speak to an allergy specialist in Centreville, VA, they might mention some of the following causes of alcohol intolerance which include:

  1. Sulfites:  Sulfites are put into most bottles of wine to act as a preservative. Note that one can buy sulfite-free wine, but the supply is much more limited than wines that contain sulfites.  Sulfites are found in many other foods, medications, and vaccines.  Many individuals are sensitive to sulfites and this preservative can cause hives, swelling, and even anaphylaxis in very sensitive individuals.  An estimated 5-10% of asthmatics have the propensity for sulfites to exacerbate their asthma.  Sulfites may be labeled as sodium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium sulfite, potassium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfite, or sulfur dioxide (which technically is not a sulfite, but is a close relative).
  2. Inactivated Aldehyde Dehydrogenase:  Aldehyde dehydrogenase is an enzyme that breaks down alcohol to acetic acid (i.e., vinegar).  Some individuals have a genetic mutation that inactivates this enzyme which results in a flushed face and body during the consumption of alcohol.  They may also experience rapid heart rate, nausea, and/or headache.  In these people, alcohol is not broken down into acetic acid, and as a consequence, there is a build-up of acetaldehyde which is the cause of the flushing.  This mutation is more common in individuals of Asian descent as approximately 35% of East Asians have this condition and thus is sometimes referred to as “Asian flush syndrome.”  The gene change responsible for this mutation is thought to be linked with the domestication of rice, several hundreds of years ago in southern China.  The flushing syndrome is associated with a lower rate of alcoholism, probably due to the adverse effects when drinking alcohol, as well as an increase risk to esophageal cancer in those individuals who drink.
  3. Histamine:  Top allergy specialists Centreville, VA residents turn to should know that alcoholic drinks contain the chemical histamine, which is generated by the fermenting of yeast.  Histamine is released into the bloodstream in a normal allergic reaction and is attributable for many of the symptoms found in hay fever (allergic rhinitis).  Histamine found in alcoholic beverages are primarily responsible for the nasal congestion that one notices while drinking alcohol.
  4. An Underlying Medical Condition:  Hives and/or swelling can be exacerbated in patients with chronic hives (chronic urticaria) and/or swelling (angioedema).  Likewise, patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers are more likely to have alcohol-induced pain.  Individuals using medications such as Antabuse (i.e., disulfiram), Flagyl (i.e., metronidazole), and tinidazole (i.e., Tindamax, Fasigyn, Simplotan). Antabuse inhibits the enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, thus causing the same flushing, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and/or headaches found in the flushing syndrome mentioned above. Flagyl and Tindamax both are anti-parasitic medications and Flagyl is also used as an antibiotic.  Both of these medications interfere with the breakdown of alcohol and cause symptoms such as flushing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches, sweating, increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and liver damage.  Keep in mind that small amounts of alcohol (e.g., 1 tablespoon) are all that is needed to cause reactions when mixed with these medications.  Many over the counter oral and topical products contain alcohol such as colognes, aftershaves, cough syrups, mouthwashes, etc. and should be avoided while taking Flagyl and/or Tindamax.  There may also be other medications that should not be taken together with alcohol. As experienced allergy specialists Centreville, VA patients recommend highly, it is important to read the warnings on all prescription bottles from the pharmacy to ensure one’s safety.

Contact a Top Centreville, VA Allergy Specialist Today
If you have had an untoward reaction or side effect from consuming alcohol, please call the board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy to schedule an appointment.  Food testing can be done to rule out an actual food allergy that is present in all alcoholic drinks.  Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 offices in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  All 3 locations offer on-site parking.  In  addition, the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible with a free shuttle available that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  To make an appointment, please call us or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy has been providing high quality allergy and asthma care to the DC metro community for more than a half century. If you have experienced alcohol allergies or intolerance, turn to allergy specialists Centreville, VA is proud to have in its community.