Allergic Reactions to Alcoholic Drinks
Pounding headache, nausea and shakiness are the classic symptoms of over-indulgence, but some people feel sick after drinking even small amounts of alcohol.
A true allergy to the alcohol itself is extremely rare. It is much more common to have an intolerance, or even an allergy, to an ingredient in the alcoholic drink.
The symptoms of the reactions may be exactly like those with any other food allergy
Hives and Swelling after drinking alcohol
Some people, especially those with chronic urticaria 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.
Flushing Reactions after alcohol consumption
Aldehyde dehydrogenase is an enzyme that helps break down alcohol after it is consumed. A deficiency of this enzyme can result in flushing reactions after consuming alcohol. This may include nausea and rapid heart rate. Such reactions can be confused with an allergic reaction, but they are actually more often due to this enzyme deficiency*, which is most common in people of Asian descent.
Non-allergic Rhinitis brought on by drinking alcohol Some people experience symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing after the consumption of 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.
However the alcohol itself is not typically the reason for these 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) may be the cause.
Additives in alcoholic drinks that may cause an allergic reaction
Sulphites occur naturally in wine and may also be added as a preservative to various alcoholic drinks in order to prevent spoilage. Sulphfites are known to worsen asthma symptoms and may result in hives and anaphylaxis in some sulphite-sensitive people.
It's worth knowing that whites and rosés generally have lower levels than reds.
Eggs and Milk
Two foods that can potentially cause an allergic reaction are also used in the processing of wines – egg white and milk protein.
Egg white is used as a fining agent in the clarification of red wines rich in tannins. Milk protein, particularly casein, is used in the clarification of white and rose and occasionally some red wines.
Until now, these allergens did not have to be listed. But now, unless wine producers can prove that they were not used in the production of wines, milk and milk-based products, egg and egg-based products must be identified on the label along with the presence of sulphites/sulfites.
The label must declare when there is more than 0.5ppm of milk and/or egg allergen in a bottle of wine.
The regulation applies to wines made completely or partially from grapes harvested in 2012 and labelled after the 30th June 2012, entering the EU from any other country. So the ruling applies to all wines, including those from Australia, Chile or California.
Unless wine producers can prove that they were not used in the production of wines, milk and milk-based products, egg and egg-based products need to be labelled together with the presence of sulphites/sulfites.
Some alcoholic drinks, notably red wine and Champagne, contain high levels of histamine, which is produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine is the same chemical released by mast cells during an allergic reaction, and can cause symptoms of itching, hives, sneezing and wheezing. "Red wine headache" is likely to be a reaction to the histamine in red wine. You can take a supplement - DAOSiN - to counteract this.
Gluten is found in rye, barley and wheat. Malted barley, which contains gluten, and wheat are both used to make beer, so people who seem to have an alcohol allergy could actually have a sensitivity to gluten or wheat. You can now take a simple finger-prick test at home to check for gluten intolerance.
Oddly, distilling rye, wheat and barley, as is done when making vodka, whisky, gin and bourbon, seems to prevent allergic or intolerance reactions in people otherwise sensitive to beer or wine.
A fungus called Brewer's yeast is used as part of the fermenting process in beer, wine, hard cider, sake and other beverages like those. Allergies to this type of yeast are quite common in people who are also allergic to mould.
This is not a common food allergy, but some people are allergic to grapes, so obviously wine is out. But if you're allergic to grapes, you should also avoid ouzo, vermouth, cognac and Champagne.
Some people have an intolerance to corn proteins. Corn is always used in the production of bourbon and may also be used to produce other spirits and some beers. It is believed that distilled alcohols such as bourbon and whiskey do not contain the actual corn protein that triggers symptoms, but there is not enough scientific evidence to be 100 percent sure.
Artificial flavourings and colour
Finally, if you are allergic to certain artificial colourings or flavourings such as caramel, they may be the culprit in any reactions you have to alcohol, especially in liqueurs or brandies.