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Is Janey allergic to alcohol?

Posted by Janet Rhodes on

alcohol allergyMy friend Janey has just rung me in a right old state. She had a terrible Christmas and an even worse New Year’s Eve! Apparently every time she had a glass of anything alcoholic her eyelids swelled and itched, went red and weepy. Not a good look, she said. What could I do to help, she wanted to know. Was it white wine? Champagne? Vodka shots? Sherry in the trifle?

I’m afraid I confirmed that it is perfectly possible to experience allergic reactions to alcoholic drinks and the symptoms may be exactly like those that accompany any other food allergy response. So the simple solution is to avoid alcoholic drinks.

But rather annoyingly the alcohol itself is not typically the reason for these allergic reactions. Other ingredients such as grapes in wine, various grains in beers (hops, barley, rye, corn or wheat) and the addition of yeast (for fermentation of sugars and generation of alcohol) or preservatives are often the cause. Even egg white finds its way into the production of wine, used in the “fining” or clarification process.

Sulphites in alcoholic drinks

Numerous well-controlled studies show that some asthmatics can have severe asthma symptoms after consuming sulphite-containing food or drink or after inhaling sulphite fumes or vapours. Sulphites are known to increase asthma symptoms in about 5% of sufferers, particularly in adults with severe asthma and may result in hives and anaphylaxis in some people. Sulphites can occur naturally in alcoholic spirits, beers and wines but are also added as preservatives to prevent spoilage. Watch out for the phrase “sodium metabisulphite”on labels. It’s worth knowing that whites and rosés generally have lower levels than reds.

Hives and Swelling

Some people, especially those with chronic urticaria (nettle rash) and angioedema, may have an increase in their symptoms with the consumption of alcohol. In these people, an allergic reaction is not to blame; rather, alcohol may simply worsen the underlying disease process.

Histamine reactions

Histamine is the same chemical released by mast cells during an allergic reaction and can cause symptoms of itching, hives, sneezing and wheezing.

Some alcoholic beverages contain histamine, which is produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine levels are high in Champagne and cheaper red wines and moderate in beer and white wine. “Red wine headache” is a common histamine reaction. I suspect my friend Janey’s itching symptoms put her in this histamine-intolerant category.

DAOSiN for Histamine Intolerance

There’s a useful article on histamine intolerance including a list of histamine-rich and histamine-releasing food and drink on the AllergyBestBuys website. And you’ll be pleased to learn that if histamine intolerance is the cause of your allergic reactions to red wine, you can counteract them with a couple of capsules of DAOSiN.


Aldehyde dehydrogenase is an enzyme that helps break down alcohol after it is consumed and a deficiency of this enzyme can result in flushing reactions after consuming alcohol. This may include nausea and rapid heart rate. Such reactions can seem like an allergic reaction, but they are actually more often due to this enzyme deficiency. It is most common in Asian people.


Some people experience symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing after drinking alcohol. This is likely due to the dilation of blood vessels in the nose, resulting in mucus production and nasal symptoms. This would be classified as a form of non-allergic rhinitis.

The best book by far on food and drink allergy is The Complete Guide to Food Allergy & Intolerance by Professor Jonathan Brostoff and Linda Gamlin. 

It is the most reliable, comprehensive and unbiased source of information on all aspects of food sensitivity and an invaluable reference to have in the home.

There is a fuller article on alcohol allergy on the AllergyBestBuys website here.

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