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Allergy to alcohol: symptoms, signs and treatment


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An allergy to alcohol, also known as alcohol intolerance, can be a very unpleasant experience. Its cause is the inability to break down alcohol or various ingredients of alcoholic beverages, and there are a great many symptoms, and they can often indicate another disease. Fortunately, there are ways to determine if you are allergic to alcohol, although they can be unpleasant. It is important to find out if you have an intolerance to alcohol, taking chemicals that you cannot digest can have terrible consequences.

How is an allergy to alcohol

The cause of the allergy is a malfunction in the immune system, when a harmless substance is recognized by the body as harmful. To combat the alleged enemy, the human immune system begins to produce antibodies that, when in contact with a foreign substance, secrete powerful chemical compounds. Their excess causes allergic symptoms.

Alcohol allergy in its pure form is very rare, and the causes of its occurrence have not been identified so far. The human body itself constantly produces small amounts of alcohol (on average, the blood usually contains from 0.01 to 0.03 mg), so the occurrence of an allergy to alcohol looks especially strange. Only 1 ml of pure alcohol (the equivalent is 10 ml of wine or a sip of beer) can cause allergic reactions in people with alcohol allergies, even deadly ones. The situation may be complicated by the fact that for many people allergic alcohol tests give a negative answer, but are positive for the decay products of ethanol - acetaldehyde and acetic acid.

However, much more often allergic reactions are caused by the components included in the composition of alcoholic beverages, be it the raw material from which the drink is prepared, or later additives - flavors, brighteners, thickeners, preservatives. All of these products can contribute to allergies even in people who are insensitive to alcohol. Acquired allergy to alcohol or its constituent ingredients can occur at any time during a person’s life.

What are the symptoms of an alcohol allergy?

With a true alcohol allergy or an allergy to the substances that make up the drink, even a small amount of drunk can cause symptoms up to anaphylactic shock, which is a threat to human life. Symptoms of an alcohol allergy may include:

  • red spots on the face, itching of the skin of the face, lips, nose
  • allergic conjunctivitis, pruritus, increased lacrimation
  • stuffy nose, hoarse cough, shortness of breath
  • swelling of the face, throat or other parts of the body
  • severe skin rash, eczema
  • stomach pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • dizziness, loss of consciousness

Sometimes alcohol leads to worsening symptoms in people with urticaria. Fortunately, rashes caused by physical contact with the stimulus are very rare. In people suffering from bronchial asthma, alcohol can cause complications, cough, shortness of breath up to bronchial obstruction. Alcohol can also aggravate the symptoms of other food allergies and even lead to anaphylactic shock.

Strong alcoholic drinks can provoke an allergic reaction to foods that a person previously could eat without consequences. This is because alcohol increases the ability of the digestive system to absorb the nutrients that enter the body. One example is the frequent allergy to poultry with which a person ate alcoholic beverages.

If a person observes the above symptoms after drinking alcohol, it is recommended to consult a doctor. If you ignore allergic symptoms and are not treated, an allergic reaction to an irritant can become more and more severe, even fatal.

Allergy or Alcohol Intolerance

It sometimes happens that the unpleasant sensations caused by the use of alcoholic beverages - red spots on the face, stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, vomiting, accelerated heartbeat - are caused not by allergies, but by individual intolerance.
The difference is that with allergies, the human immune system responds to alcohol or a substance that is part of an alcoholic beverage. And with intolerance to ethyl alcohol, the digestive system is not able to cope with the alcohol that has entered the body. This happens when the body cannot produce a special enzyme that helps break down and absorb some substances. For example, a gene responsible for the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde and then to acetic acid does not work well in people from Asian countries. As a result, a large amount of acetaldehyde can accumulate in the body, which causes the above symptoms.

Histamine Intolerance

Histamine is a chemical substance that the human body produces. It can also be found in many foods and drinks, especially fermented ones. Its concentration is especially high in ripe cheese, smoked meat, sauerkraut, wine and beer.
Typically, the human body produces an enzyme called diamine oxidase to break down histamine. However, if the body is not able to produce the right amount, histamine begins to accumulate, which leads to the development of similar to allergic symptoms - redness of the skin, itching, stuffy nose, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Sulfite Intolerance

Some people have an individual intolerance or a particular sensitivity to sulfites. These compounds are often added to wine and beer to limit fermentation or as a preservative. Typically, potassium hydrosulfite (E228) or potassium pyrosulfite (E224) is used in the food industry. Often, allergic-like reactions can also be caused by a sulfite-related substance, sulfur dioxide (E220).


In some (fortunately, very rare) cases, the pain of drinking alcohol can be caused by a cancer - lymphogranulomatosis or Hodgkin's lymphoma. This type of cancer affects the lymphatic system. As a rule, enlarged lymph nodes in Hodgkin's disease do not hurt, but for reasons as yet unclear, in rare cases after drinking alcohol, a person may experience pain in them.

Diagnosis of alcohol allergy

If you notice the symptoms described above after drinking alcohol, it is recommended that you consult a doctor. Depending on them, a general practitioner may refer you to an allergist to identify the causes of allergies.
Most likely, the doctor will ask the following questions:

  • What alcoholic beverages cause symptoms?
  • What are these symptoms?
  • When did you start to experience something similar?
  • Do you have any allergy sufferers?
  • Do you have other diseases, and if so, which ones?

Most likely, if you suspect an allergy to alcohol or substances that are part of alcoholic beverages, the patient will be recommended to undergo an allergy test. The most common type of testing is skin tests, in which a small amount of a possible allergen will be applied to the skin that is pricked or scratched with a special medical tool. You can also use a blood test for the contained antigens and antibodies.

If it is not possible to determine the stimulus in this way, in some cases, the doctor may suggest that you drink a small amount of the substance that is suspected to cause allergies. In this case, he will carefully monitor the reaction of the patient.

Allergological tests are always carried out in a medical environment - sometimes they alone can cause a serious allergic reaction.

Wine allergy

Most often, red wine causes allergies. An allergic reaction can be triggered by one of the ingredients that make up the alcoholic beverage, or used raw materials (for example, grapes of a certain variety). It is also believed that other non-ethanol components of wine (for example, by-products of fermentation, which turns grape juice into wine), as well as additives that are required to give the wine the proper consistency, taste and aroma, may be to blame. Allergies to alcohol can even be caused by mold that forms on the cork of a wine bottle.

Raw materials. The grapes from which the wine was made can also cause an allergic reaction. In addition to the substances contained in it, allergies can also be caused by processing grapes before harvesting, for example, sulfur dioxide in fungal diseases of plants.

By-products of grape juice fermentation, such as histamine. Its content in wine varies depending on the variety and type of drink (for example, it is more in red wines than in white, and more in shiraz than in cabernet).

Preservatives About a third of people with asthma complain that after taking small doses of alcohol they feel unwell. The reason is sodium pyrosulfate (E223), which has been used as a preservative since the days of the ancient Romans. Many people with asthma experience seizures after consuming drinks that contain it. As a rule, sodium pyrosulfate is more in white wine than in red, and less in bottles than in barrel wine. Wines with a low content of sodium pyrosulfate also appeared on sale, although people with a high sensitivity to sulfur compounds are unlikely to even consume them. Also, to increase the shelf life, other sulfur compounds are often added to wine, which can provoke an asthmatic attack, and in extremely sensitive people even lead to anaphylactic shock. Sodium benzoate (E211) can also cause hives and make breathing difficult with asthma.

Food colorings. Tartrazine (E102) is used to give the wine a golden hue. This substance is highly allergenic and can cause skin rashes and asthma attacks.

Sweeteners. They are often added to cheap champagne to mask the flaws of the wine.

Squirrels. To change the degree of transparency of the drink, egg proteins or seafood are often used. Although these products themselves are quite capable of causing allergies, it remains unclear whether they can provoke an allergic reaction after use as a clarifier because of the extremely low content in the finished product.

Beer allergy

By the frequency of allergies, beer takes second place after wine. It would seem that the main ingredient in beer is water, where do allergies come from? However, the drink contains many substances that can cause an allergy to beer.

Malt (barley, wheat, rye, corn) or corn, rice, potatoes, used to ferment cheap beers with enzymes. Most often, allergies are caused by the protein compounds contained in them. The latest fashion trend - gluten-free beer based on sorghum - can also provoke an allergic reaction with individual sensitivity to this cereal.

Hops are dangerous in case of individual intolerance.

Brewer's yeast. Although their content in the finished product is low, they can cause allergic reactions.

Histamine. It is generally less in beer than in red wine, however, the amount available is quite capable of provoking an allergic reaction or intolerance.

Flavors and flavors (coriander, orange peel, fruit and berry extracts). As a rule, they are almost completely processed during the manufacture of the drink, however, their residual traces can also cause allergies.

Preservatives, including sulfites, potassium and calcium benzoates (E212, E213). Compared to bottled beer, there are more preservatives in cask.

Clarifiers (tannic acid and other food tannins). Dangerous with individual sensitivity to tannins.

Allergy to Vodka

It is generally accepted that vodka among alcoholic beverages causes the least allergic reactions. Its main ingredient is ethyl alcohol, diluted with water. If vodka is high-quality, there are practically no other ingredients in it. Possible allergens present in plant materials are removed already at the stage of product purification. Another thing is if the vodka is flavored or inexpensive - then the person who uses it can develop an allergy to flavoring substances, brighteners, fusel oils and other impurities. The highest quality components, of course, in expensive vodkas of the “Premium” and “Super-premium” class.

Cognac allergy

Cognac is a strong alcoholic drink made from grapes. The main cause of allergies in the use of cognac is the sulfur compounds used as preservatives, and histamine that arose during the fermentation of grape raw materials. Although tannins in cognac reduce the permeability of the intestinal walls, thereby reducing the effect caused by alcohol, they themselves can cause allergies. When using low-quality alcohol, an allergy can occur to many foreign impurities - flavors, dyes, fusel oils, and so on.

Allergy to alcohol

It is generally accepted that in its pure form allergies to ethyl alcohol cannot occur. However, it is impossible to drink pure 96% alcohol - when ingested, it causes a burn of the mucous membranes. Therefore, alcohol is diluted for drinking, and it is these additives that can cause allergies. The situation is complicated by the fact that ethyl alcohol is an excellent solvent, the substance can be imperceptibly with the naked eye, but still it can cause an allergy.

Pre-Allergy Conditions

There is no single answer from allergy researchers, can irritation appear on pure alcohol? The bottom line is that the body produces this product in small volumes on its own. As irritants, compounds of proteins consisting of large molecules act, and alcohol consists of small molecules, a neutral reaction to ethanol acts as a characteristic feature of human immunity.

Scientists allergists confirm that the irritating effect of hot drinks is based on the low quality of the product, filled with dyes, polyphenolic components, flavor stabilizers and other additives in excess.

Negative irritation to alcohol can occur in the presence of pesticides used during the cultivation of grapes, which are later used for wine production. In the production of individual alcohol-containing drinks, nuts are used: nutmeg or almonds. Similar products contribute to irritation.

Allergy Alcohol Symptoms

Features of the formation of an allergic reaction caused by the use of alcohol-containing drinks include:

  • redness of the face and hands,
  • the appearance of a feeling of contraction in a vise and sharp pains,
  • jumps in blood pressure and an increase in body temperature,
  • complication of existing gastritis,
  • the occurrence of edema, intense cold,
  • fast intoxication,
  • heart rhythm disturbance,
  • exacerbation of asthmatic manifestations before asthma attacks.

The essence of the formation of an allergic reaction to various products is the need for a long time for this process. A person who occasionally drinks strong drinks may not suggest that regularly appearing minor ailments are signs of an allergy to alcohol.

Drinking at holidays or corporate parties, a person notes the occurrence of skin spots and weakness, but correlates this with a reaction to food consumed or general fatigue. So, an unhurried formation of the body's reaction and damage to health is carried out with each drunk glass.

You can notice how an allergy to alcohol manifests itself in the early stages by the appearance of a reddish skin rash. After a certain time, various pathological metabolic processes appear. Probably the appearance of panic attacks, loss of consciousness.

The situation requires measures; otherwise, spasm of the bronchi, Quincke's edema, or the development of anaphylaxis can occur. The consequences threaten not only health, but also the life of a person affected by allergies. For this reason, as soon as an allergic reaction to alcohol has formed, measures to eliminate it are required.

First aid

When you are allergic to alcohol, you need to contact emergency medical workers. Medical workers are equipped with everything necessary to save the patient, time plays an important role in situations.

Effectively before the ambulance arrives, if the patient's condition allows, the reception of Polysorb will affect.To eliminate the external symptoms of the manifestation of the reaction, tablets are used for allergies to hormones of a hormonal and non-hormonal type.

Alcohol with an allergy to alcohol

With the manifestation of the irritation reaction, the sequence of steps will be as follows:

For situations accompanied by headaches, sudden changes in pressure, asthma attacks, fainting, an ambulance call is required.

To exclude drinking alcohol, contributing to the appearance of irritation.

When there is no way to exclude it, it is recommended that you try to improve the quality of the alcoholic drink consumed and reduce the dosage. Use cognac instead of vodka.

If you consume a small amount of alcohol, you can get rid of an allergy to alcohol by supporting the digestive system. Excluding harmful foods from snacks that can induce the manifestation of allergies.

Reception of antihistamines (Fenistil, Claritin), the dosage of which is determined by an allergist.

In the event of an asthma attack before the arrival of the medical service, it is necessary to give the patient an anti-asthmatic inhaler.

On alcohol as an irritant, cases of reaction are less common than patients determine it. Allergic irritation is understood as sensations that people combine with the consequences that have occurred after drinking.

This is expressed in the appearance of a rash on the face or urticaria. Such signs are similar to the symptoms of an allergy to alcohol. It is important to pay attention to the use of delicious dishes at the banquet table, which are rarely present in the diet. The occurrence of allergic symptoms may be promoted by such products.

How to get rid of an allergy to alcohol

Unfortunately, you can’t completely and completely get rid of allergies. But you can alleviate its symptoms and prevent allergic reactions that threaten life and health. If you are allergic to alcohol as such, the only way to avoid the onset and accumulation of symptoms is complete abstinence. Even a small amount of it can cause a serious allergic reaction.

People with a “true” alcohol allergy should remember that alcohol is part of many finished foods. These include fizzy drinks, prepared sauces, marinades, even tomato puree. Overripe fruits can begin to ferment, and the alcohol received is enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Some medicines, such as cough syrup, also contain alcohol, which is added to preserve the liquid's consistency. Ready meals in restaurants and cafes can be prepared with the addition of alcohol.

However, most often the picture is not so gloomy. If only certain types or varieties of drinks or their combination with a certain type of food cause allergies, then you can either use a different variety or switch to another drink (for example, from beer to wine). In this case, it is recommended to consult a doctor in advance.

With a small reaction to alcohol, enough antihistamines taken orally, as well as non-prescription drugs to alleviate symptoms (for example, healing and painkillers for itching, rinsing the nasopharynx with a decoction of chamomile or saline, etc.) are enough for treatment. In severe cases, you must always wear a medical bracelet and, just in case, carry at least one autoinjector with adrenaline. After using adrenaline, you should immediately consult a doctor.

Allergy to alcohol: treatment

The formation of an allergic reaction is a type of disease that is difficult to cure. The only way to protect against the ailment that forms after alcohol is to stop drinking strong drinks. For cases with alcohol, this is feasible. When observing an allergic reaction to the action of wine drinks, you can choose high-quality cognac or vodka to replace them.

Before treating an alcoholic allergy, it is important to make sure that the reaction was not caused by an exotic dish, but by an alcoholic drink. For the prophylactic elimination of intestinal and liver pathologies, it is required to perform support and strengthening of organs with the help of medications. The use of antihistamines prevents the aggravation of a detected problem.

Treatment of an allergy to alcohol using traditional medicine will be inconclusive. Classical therapy for the reaction to alcohol does not differ from therapeutic measures of its other types. A complex of antihistamines is taken as the basis. They eliminate the symptoms of the manifestation of the disease, which makes it possible to carry out subsequent analyzes and studies.

In the event of an allergic reaction and poisoning, the assistant is the universal sorbent Polysorb. To avoid undesirable manifestations during a feast, it is recommended to use the drug before the event. The advantageous difference between the sorbent among other analogues is its use in conjunction with alcohol.

Preventative measures

To avoid unpleasant symptoms and know what to do when they appear, you should adhere to the tips:

When purchasing alcohol at a low cost, one should not expect a decent quality product and the natural origin of its components. For this reason, you need to select a drink for a banquet, thoroughly examining the label for the presence of extraneous components or coloring elements.

The rule of superiority of quality over quantity is important. Drink alcohol in small doses, it does not matter what type of drink you drink, it is more profitable than paying for treatment.

It is necessary to observe the reaction of the body to different types of alcohol. If you are allergic to a particular cognac, it is better to refuse it.

Reception Polysorb before a feast will facilitate the state during the celebration.

In case of detection of the primary symptoms of an allergic reaction to alcohol - red spots, itching, you should consult a doctor.

A sure and reliable way to prevent alcohol allergy is to abstain from it and fill the confectionery.

Is there an alcohol allergy acquired?

Hereditary intolerance to alcohol requires abstinence from products containing ethyl alcohol. An allergy can occur as a reaction to cosmetics or as a result of alcohol treatment of injection sites.

Acquired allergies are widely spread. Its appearance is associated with the drinking of low-quality alcoholic beverages. Cases of drinking bad cognac or champagne can provide the development of an allergic reaction.

High-quality wines can be included in the compound in the form of sulfur dioxide or pesticides. Such substances are involved in the cultivation of grape crops, even with the observance of the preparation technology, their residual amount, but it appears in the manufactured products. Therefore, after drinking drinks, allergies can develop.

It makes no sense to keep silent about base cognac or champagne, saturated with coloring agents, flavors and flavors. The use of fake alcohol is strictly prohibited!

What is an alcohol allergy?

Is there an allergy to alcohol, or are these all unproven assumptions? If we take into account such a factor as the body’s ability to secrete “large” protein allergens, the reaction to alcohol at least seems ridiculous. Alcohol in its molecular structure is not able to cause such a reaction.

In fact, an allergy to alcohol is an inadequate reaction of the body's immune defenses to the individual components that make up an alcoholic beverage. It can be vegetable protein inclusions: malt, hops, yeast, nut, wheat, etc. It turns out that this reaction from alcohol (ethyl) is simply not there, but there is a separate individual reaction of the body to specific additives, flavorings, flavoring impregnations of third-party components. Ethyl becomes a kind of "shield" through which allergens penetrate the body.

How dangerous is an alcohol allergy?

An allergic reaction to alcohol, which causes concern among healthcare providers, is not considered a risky disease among the population. For most people, this condition does not cause anxiety and concern. The first signs are not recognized at the time, and the secondary acute symptoms are argued by a reaction to anything but alcohol.

Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations during acute symptoms of alcohol is more than 300,000 visits per year. Mortality at this figure (asphyxiation, intoxication) is 10%. The main risk factor is a life-threatening complication - Quincke's edema. The body itself, developing the so-called "protection", works against itself.

Pathogenesis of an inadequate response to alcohol

For what reasons do some people have a nonspecific reaction to meat, others to animal hair, and others to alcohol? The individual characteristics of the body form their own risk factors, the group of which may include various stimuli (one or several). According to experts, prolonged contact with an allergen allows the body to consider previously familiar molecules as a kind of source of danger.

The reaction of the body's immune defense can occur to previously familiar pathogens (acquired allergy). A congenital autoimmune reaction is less common. According to the observations of doctors, parents who have allergies of any type of manifestation are likely to have a 35% chance of having a child with a congenital autoimmune reaction to a specific protein.


How is an allergy to alcohol manifested, and what to do with the first symptoms of pathology? In most cases, the first stages proceed unnoticed by the patient:

  • headache,
  • a runny nose looks like a simple rhinitis
  • nausea after consuming even a small amount of alcohol,
  • bitterness in the mouth
  • plaque in the tongue after drinking alcohol,
  • high blood pressure
  • red spots on the face and body,
  • hives,
  • itching in the nose, chin, neck.

Such symptoms can be "attributed" to a simple food allergy. In the meantime, the body every time it encounters alcohol produces an increasing number of antigens that work against the body. Neglect of such a disease can provoke complex and life-threatening conditions in one day.

The main risk is Quincke's edema, which can cause choking. If the patient is not provided with medical care on time, then the patient may suffocate: Quincke's edema extends not only to the tissues of the skin of the face and body, but also to the mucous membranes of the larynx.

Allergy to alcohol and its symptoms depend on the individual characteristics of the body, as well as on concomitant possible diseases of the liver, kidneys, heart. At the first manifestations of a possible alcohol allergy, a thorough examination (US) of the organs (pancreas, liver, heart, kidneys, appendages) is necessary. With untimely and inadequate treatment, an allergy that occurs after alcohol can acquire slightly different, more obvious signs:

  • vomiting, persistent nausea (especially after binge),
  • runny nose after drinking alcohol for 3-4 days,
  • face allergy in the form of dark uneven brown spots,
  • fever, chills,
  • rashes are localized not only on the neck, face and hands, but already spread throughout the body, transforming into polymorphic skin rashes (similar to blisters, swelling, burns),
  • seborrhea along the hairline (usually from the side of the hair on the head in the temporal zone),
  • dizziness,
  • intestinal dyspepsia
  • migraine,
  • anaphylactoid reactions, much less often - anaphylactic shock.

With the intake of alcohol at any dosage, a general deterioration occurs, the patient complains of increased headaches and other symptoms that are characteristic of general intoxication of the body.

Allergy to "surrogate" alcoholic beverages

Allergy to alcohol, why does it arise and what are the risks? Cases of diagnosing the disease are most often observed against the background of constant consumption of low-quality alcoholic beverage. Among the risk factors are cheap wines with a high percentage of ethyl alcohol and dyes, champagne with flavors, all kinds of homemade tinctures, moonshine and alcohol tinctures on herbs. It is important to understand here that it is additives that cause an uncharacteristic reaction of the body, and not ethyl alcohol at all.

Allergy to alcohol, as an acute form of an immunological response (primary or secondary), is much less common than simple manifestations of food allergies. Ethyl alcohol is the catalyst that provokes already persistently formed problems with a vengeance. Acute protective reactions of the respiratory system can occur as a result of the consumption of wine and beer.

The latter (beer allergy) is the body's response to yeast. Given the low quality of beer drinks, the risk of developing an allergy from a low-quality alcoholic drink increases significantly. An allergy to cognac and whiskey can occur very, very rarely. The main possible reason in this case is the process of producing an alcoholic beverage (aging in oak or cedar barrels).

How to treat alcohol allergies?

In order to know how to cure an allergy to alcohol, it is necessary to accurately determine the degree of intoxication. The body perceives alcohol in all portions and of any quality as a toxic poisonous substance. Therefore, even pure and high-quality alcohol is already a challenge for the body. First aid for acute allergic reactions is:

  • applying cold to the throat, nose and temples,
  • put the patient on his side so that the airways are not burdened with possible swelling,
  • give a triple dose of sorbent,
  • if possible, give the patient a large amount of liquid to drink (not less than a liter), in order to provoke vomiting,
  • to provide free access of oxygen (it is better to take out to the street).

How to get rid of an allergy to alcohol and is it possible to carry out preventive treatment? In fact, drugs that would help eliminate and completely cure the body do not exist today. The basis of treatment is the use of antihistamines, which eliminate the symptoms.

Allergy to alcohol and its treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. There are still disputes and discussions of many scientists who are studying the question of whether there may be an allergy to ethyl, as such, and what can provoke this condition. The autoimmune function of the body is a complex, poorly understood and not fully understood function of the human body.

If there are any manifestations of a possible allergy, it is necessary to treat the examination of all internal organs in more detail, because even a simple runny nose after taking champagne can be the very first sign of an allergy to alcohol.