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By THE BALANCE
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What is alcohol allergy and is there even such a thing? It’s rarely heard that one is allergic to alcohol: a drink so widely consumed around the world. If one can get allergic to alcohol, what are the symptoms of it; what causes an alcohol allergy; what are its side effects; how long would these side effects last? All these are essential questions that are likely to pop up in your mind. They will be answered in this article along with how the treatment for the rash caused by this type of allergy works. Read till the end to find out how to treat the rash.

The allergy caused by alcohol is a response of the immune system. A person’s immune system reacts excessively to an ingredient in alcohol. This means that the individual could be allergic to one of the substances used to make alcohol. An actual alcohol allergy is rare, but the reactions to it could be really bad. Many people mistake alcohol allergy for alcohol intolerance. Certain individuals may also be allergic to other components of alcoholic drinks. For example, potential allergens in alcoholic drinks include:

  • Barley
  • Wheat
  • Yeast
  • Grapes
  • Rye
  • Hops

People usually call alcohol intolerance an alcohol allergy and vice versa. People who have an alcohol intolerance can still drink alcohol, but people who have an actual alcohol allergy should not drink alcohol at all or it could end badly.

Being allergic to food is more common than ever before but a question that a lot of people may wonder about, but is not addressed enough, is can you be allergic to alcohol?

Alcoholic beverages may certainly have allergen ingredients in them, but what about the alcohol itself? The allergy to alcohol most definitely exists but it is very truly rare and occurs when the human body sees alcohol as a dangerous substance and consequently attempts to fight it off, causing an allergic reaction. As mentioned earlier, alcohol allergy is a reaction of the immune system. Mostly when there seems to be an allergic reaction to an alcoholic beverage it is due to one of the 14 major food allergens in the beverage or some other allergen ingredient is present in the alcohol.

The most common allergen ingredients in alcohol are:

  • Barley
  • Egg protein
  • Grapes
  • Gluten
  • Histamines
  • Hops
  • Rye
  • Seafood Proteins
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sulfites (White Wine mostly contains levels of sulfites that are higher than red wine and beer)
  • Wheat
  • Yeast

You may not react to the allergens the first time you consume an alcoholic drink or come into contact with an allergen but the allergies may well develop at any point in life. Could take place in your first week, or even after a year. With that being said, if you begin to experience symptoms of an allergy after drinking, it is recommended to seek advice from your doctor.

If you have an actual alcohol allergy, even a little bit of alcohol could cause symptoms to show. In certain cases, it may even cause anaphylaxis. This allergic reaction could very well be life-threatening.

An allergic reaction can include the following symptoms:

  • Itchy nose, mouth, or eyes
  • Eczema, hives, or itchiness on the surface of your skin
  • Swelling of your throat, face, or other parts of your body
  • Nasal congestion, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or loss of consciousness

You should never take the symptoms of an allergic reaction for granted and ignore them. If the symptoms are left untreated, an allergic reaction can rapidly worsen. In rare cases, strong allergic reactions can prove to be fatal.

Alcohol and Panic Attacks

It is possible to develop an alcohol allergy at any point in your life, as mentioned before, and sudden symptoms that start to somehow show can also be caused by a freshly developed intolerance. In rare cases, pain after drinking alcohol may be a sign that you have Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If you start to develop symptoms after drinking alcohol, you should make an appointment with your doctor, do not prolong it as it could get worse.

The human body naturally produces some alcohol itself, which makes it difficult to figure out why some people have an allergy to alcohol and alcoholic beverages. People can have a reaction to alcohol but still not be allergic to it. Intolerance, as it is called, is more common than a full-blown allergy to alcohol. Intolerance is different from allergy as an allergy involves different causes and symptoms (with some overlapping of course). We will discuss both of them in this article.

Intolerance is usually something genetic, while on the other hand, allergy is a reaction. Allergies occur as a body’s response to a substance that is usually harmless. An allergy to alcohol is, hence, a body’s reaction to alcohol. The body treats alcohol as a harmful substance and produces antibodies to fight it off. These antibodies are called immunoglobulin (IgE). An allergy to alcohol also occurs if the person’s body does not have the suitable enzymes needed to break down certain toxins in alcohol. Some allergies to alcohol occur because of another allergen being present in the beverage, such as:

  1. Wheat
  2. Gluten
  3. Traces of egg protein (especially found in wine)
  4. Rye
  5. Hops
  6. Yeast
  7. Sulfates
  8. Artificial food flavorings
  9. Barley
  10. Traces of seafood proteins
  11. Histamines

Due to the difference in composition and raw materials of each alcoholic beverage, the way one’s body reacts to each drink will differ too. The most common alcoholic drink to cause a reaction is a wine, due to more chances of allergens in it. Beer and whiskey are also beverages that contain common allergens like wheat and yeast that can cause an allergic reaction. People who have an Asian background are more likely to develop an intolerance or allergy to alcohol. Even those people with asthma or hay fever and those who have food allergies have an inclination to alcohol allergy.

As mentioned earlier, true alcohol allergies are uncommon. Nevertheless, if a person has one, it becomes extremely easy to trigger a severe allergic reaction even when alcohol is ingested in the smallest amounts. Although they are rare, the consequences of such allergies and being careless can be devastating. In extreme cases, an allergic reaction to alcohol can cause anaphylaxis, which is essentially a life-threatening reaction. The following are side effects and symptoms of an alcohol allergy:

  1. Itchy nose, mouth, and eyes/rashes
  2. Flushing of the face (least reliable indicator as this can happen due to anything)
  3. Difficulty breathing, congestion, and/or wheezing
  4. Worsened pre-existing asthma
  5. Low blood pressure
  6. Red and itchy skin, or eczema or hives
  7. Diarrhea
  8. Stomach cramps
  9. Nausea and/or vomiting
  10. Abdominal pain
  11. Dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or collapses
  12. Loss of consciousness

These signs and symptoms should never be ignored, as they can become much worse if left unattended. Rarely, these can prove fatal as well, but it is always better to address the side effect before it worsens. As these side effects are hard to ignore, it is suitable and perhaps the best option to seek medical help immediately, even if you’re not sure it is an alcoholic allergy reaction. 

Any sort of allergic reaction only lasts until the substance is inside the body. Once broken down, the reaction dissipates. This process of breaking down the alcohol can take a few hours and go up to a few days.  

The allergic reaction, in other words, lasts until the symptoms or side effects last. Hives, as a reaction to wine, in particular, disappear after 24 hours even without any specific treatment. It depends on how severe the reaction was, which determines how long it will take to wear off. A severe allergic reaction may take weeks to go away. Side effects like itchy rashes and abdominal pain disappear fairly quicker through treatment (for example pain killers), as compared to side effects such as stomach cramps. Targeting the side effect directly drastically reduces the time taken for the allergic reaction to wearing off completely.

Alcohol rashes can be very uncomfortable but they are not life-threatening and can be treated. The first thing to do is try and avoid the potential trigger the next time. For example, if previously red wine gave you a rash anywhere on your skin, try and avoid that at all costs. But what to do if you already have a rash and need to get rid of it fast?

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For an alcoholic rash, over the counter antihistamines can be used. Prescription antihistamines are another option. Home remedies can also be very useful, some are described below:

  1. Cold compress – this is the easiest way to stop any itching and pain from the rash. This works by reducing blood flow to the affected area
  2. Aloe vera – used since centuries ago, aloe vera has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties.
  3. Coconut oil – this also has anti-inflammatory properties and soothes the skin rash
  4. Tea tree oil – this is an essential oil, it needs dilution before it can be applied, and has been reported to work against various surface infections in
  5. Epsom salt – this also soothes the itching of the rash and the muscle pain due to the rash

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