You may know about the mental obsession for alcohol, but little is known about the physical allergy factor associated with it. Is there anything like being allergic to alcohol, just like any other food? Yes, alcohol allergy is for real. Although it is rare, it exists. And if you experience reactions after alcohol consumption, there are chances that you may be allergic to alcohol. Hence, understanding alcohol allergy symptoms, their causes, and treatment can help treat the condition promptly. To find all about alcohol allergy, stick to the very end.
As the name suggests, alcohol allergy is an allergic reaction to alcohol. If you are not well aware of allergies or allergic diseases, allergies are several conditions that are caused when your immune system becomes hypersensitive to substances in the environment. These substances are called allergens that may be typically harmless for many people. Allergens are pollen, insects, dust mites, moulds, ticks, food, and some medications.
Some people are genetically predisposed to develop allergic diseases when exposed to these allergens. Hence, both genetic and environmental factors play a role. For example, when an allergen enters the body, immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE), part of the body’s immune system, bind to the allergen. These antibodies then bind to mast cells and trigger the release of histamine, which is an inflammatory chemical. That is how your body produces allergic responses to alcohol or any substance.
According to a report cited by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), there is a link between high IgE levels in the body and high alcohol levels. However, the author doesn’t propose that alcohol causes allergies, but alcohol interacts with a component that involves an allergic response by the body.
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There is limited data that can depict the prevalence of alcohol allergy. However, according to limited epidemiological data, alcohol allergy affects many people. And for those who experience alcohol allergy, even 1 ml of pure alcohol can cause severe rash, stomach cramps, difficulty breathing, etc.
Moreover, a survey of asthmatics showed that approximately 40% of individuals experience allergy-like symptoms after consuming alcohol, and 30-35% of individuals reported that their asthma symptoms got worse.
Theron G. Randolph M.D, a specialist in internal medicine, emphasised that alcohol allergy is due to the hypersusceptibility to foods in the alcohol or to chemicals entering the alcohol during the manufacturing process. Allergies to ethanol itself are infrequent.
He also found out that people who experienced physical distress after drinking beer or Bourbon were sensitive to corn, wheat, or both. This means that if you are experiencing some allergic reactions, this may respond to an ingredient in the drink. This ingredient can be red grapes, gluten, or preservatives like sulfites, etc.
Moreover, alcohol quickens the process of food absorption, which may also enhance sensitisation compared to the presence of such substances in non-alcoholic food. Similarly, acting as a solvent for food allergens, alcohol hastens the entry of allergens into the system.
As mentioned earlier, allergy is the response of the body’s immune system to a perceived threatening substance. And alcohol allergy is just like any other food allergy because most people are allergic to different components in alcohol rather than the alcohol itself. Hence, the causes of alcohol allergy are also the same as those of other allergies.
Heavy consumption of alcohol makes the immune system weak. And a weak immune system can cause other alcohol-related disorders. Moreover, a weak immune system can make you prone to conditions with symptoms similar to those caused by allergies.
Host factors considered to be the risk for allergy are gender, heredity, race, and age, heredity being the most important, emphasising that allergies run in families. Although research has not yet identified the specific gene involved, genes make you predisposed to allergic diseases. And your body, more likely than others, see allergens as a threat and produce antibodies.
Active and passive smoking also increases the risk of allergic reactions. Studies have also shown that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of allergies for the child. Your risk for alcohol allergy also increases if you have a disease called Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of lymph nodes.
Alcohol allergy and alcohol intolerance are different. While alcohol allergy is the immune system’s response to one or more substances in alcoholic beverages, alcohol intolerance is due to issues with the individual’s digestive system.
When the body processes alcohol, acetaldehyde is produced, which is a toxic substance. If the enzyme that breaks down alcohol doesn’t work correctly, it doesn’t break down alcohol. As a result, acetaldehyde is accumulated in the bloodstream, which produces the symptom of alcohol intolerance.
In addition to differences in the underlying mechanisms, another difference lies in the severity of alcohol allergy symptoms and the symptoms of alcohol intolerance. Some allergies can merely be annoying and distressing. However, in extreme cases, an allergic reaction can lead to death. On the other hand, alcohol intolerance is not so dangerous.
Moreover, the enzyme deficiency can cause flushing reactions, including rapid heart rate, tummy discomfort, headache, feeling hot, drop in blood pressure, and nausea. Such reactions can be misunderstood as allergic reactions, but these symptoms are more common due to the deficiency of the enzyme.
Everybody’s biological make-up and body chemistry are different. Therefore, the response of an individual to alcohol varies greatly. Moreover, alcohol allergy symptoms also depend on the substance or allergen. Some common alcohol allergy symptoms are:
Some people experience severe reactions, anaphylaxis, to alcohol allergy. It is a life-threatening medical emergency, and the individual can go into a shock. Its signs and symptoms are:
If you experience allergy-like reactions after consuming alcohol and are concerned about alcohol allergy, talk to your doctor. The alcohol allergy is diagnosed through various tests, including:
Blood tests are done to test the presence of antibodies in the blood. As your body produces immunoglobulin E in response to allergens, the common types of blood tests such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test or ELISA will detect the presence of immunoglobulin E.
As the name indicates, skin tests involve placing a small amount of allergen onto the skin. If the individual is allergic to that specific allergen, an allergic reaction will take place. There are the following three ways to conduct skin tests for the diagnosis of alcohol allergy.
Patch test: skin patch test involves placing a solution-containing pad on the skin for a specific period.
Intradermal testing: intradermal testing involves injecting a solution into the skin. The solution contains the allergen.
Prick test: in the allergy prick test, the doctor applies the solution containing allergen and then pricks the skin using a needle.
Health care professionals conduct all the tests mentioned above with caution and careful preparation before the test. Moreover, the tests are carried out to identify the allergens. Hence, these should never be conducted by oneself because allergy reactions can be mild to severe and need immediate treatment.
After the skin tests, if a wheal of 3mm or larger or some other alcohol allergy symptoms appear on the skin, the test is considered favourable to that suspected allergen. Similarly, four times higher than normal levels of immunoglobulin E in the blood depicts the alcohol allergy.
Moreover, the doctor will ask about your alcohol allergy symptoms, family history of allergies, alcohol intolerance, and physical exam.
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for alcohol allergy. However, you can prevent and manage alcohol allergy symptoms. If alcohol allergy is diagnosed, you need to abstain from drinking it. Moreover, be careful while eating foods cooked with alcohol because you may not know about the substances that can cause allergies or what foods contain alcohol. Even some medications also have alcohol. Therefore, it is better to look for the ingredients before ingesting them. Similarly, avoid mouthwashes and beauty products that contain alcohol.
Some medicines are used to treat alcohol allergy symptoms. For example, for an allergic reaction, a doctor may prescribe you cetirizine, loratadine, or fexofenadine. In addition, certain allergy medications can make you sleepy, therefore, avoid driving or using any sort of machinery after taking medication.
Immunotherapy is another treatment that can benefit you if you have severe allergies and medications don’t work for you. A healthcare professional will introduce you to tiny amounts of allergens through a series of injections for an allergic reaction over time. Immunotherapy aims to desensitise the body to the allergen.
If you experience severe allergic reactions, epinephrine (EpiPen) may be prescribed. If you feel the need to use Epi-Pen or have trouble breathing, go to the ER immediately, as this can save your life.
Alcohol allergy is an allergic reaction to alcohol or other ingredients present in alcoholic beverages. You may be genetically predisposed to alcohol allergy, or your lifestyle and other factors may cause it. No matter what the cause is, if you experience allergic reactions after drinking alcohol, contact help4addction at 0203 955 7700 to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
As there is no ultimate cure for food allergies, alcohol allergy is also not curable, and you can’t reverse it. However, you can control the symptoms by limiting your exposure to alcohol or ingredients present in the alcohol if you are allergic to those.
The only way to stop being allergic to alcohol is by avoiding drinking it or other beverages that include alcohol or ingredients you are allergic to.
Everyone can experience different severity of symptoms, from mild to severe alcohol allergy symptoms depending on the genetic and biological makeup. However, severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if not treated on time.
Some ingredients in alcoholic beverages that may cause an allergic reaction include sulfites, eggs, milk, yeast, gluten/wheat, histamine, grapes, and corn. If you are allergic to alcohol or any of these ingredients, make sure to avoid them.
If you get sick after drinking alcohol, you may have an alcohol allergy or alcohol intolerance. In these issues, your body either produces antibodies against alcohol or any other substance that your body perceives as a threat. Or your digestive system doesn’t break down alcohol properly due to the shortage of enzymes.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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