Am I Allergic to Alcohol?

Am I Allergic to Alcohol?

For many, alcohol is a big part of their lives. But for some, drinking alcohol doesn’t come with a sense of being able to relax and unwind. Instead, it causes discomfort, strange reactions, and even pain.

If you’ve ever wondered whether you’re having severe allergic reactions to alcohol – you’re not alone. This article covers everything you need to know about understanding an allergic reaction to drinking alcohol, the symptoms, causes, and what you can do if you think you might be allergic.

What is an Alcohol Allergy?

An alcohol allergy is a (rare) condition, and it’s when your immune system identifies alcohol as a serious threat. This means that even the smallest amount of alcohol can trigger a range of mild to serious symptoms.

What’s the Difference Between Being Allergic to Alcohol and Being Intolerant to It?

Being allergic to alcohol is very different from being intolerant to it, but they are often mistaken for the same thing.

When someone has an allergy, it means their immune system is involved, which is your body’s defence to external threats that have the potential to impact your health. But sometimes, our immune systems can overreact to things that are usually harmless. This overreaction is what we call an allergic reaction.

When it comes to alcohol allergies, an alcohol allergy means the immune system thinks alcohol, or actually, more specifically, one of its ingredients, is a threat to your body.
It’s not typically the alcohol itself but other ingredients found in alcoholic drinks. This can include:

  • Yeast: Yeast is used in the fermentation process to make beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.
  • Grapes: Found in wine, someone might be allergic to the grapes used to make it.
  • Barley: Barley is a type of grain used in beer and can cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Wheat: Some alcoholic drinks contain wheat, which can be a problem for people allergic to it.
  • Histamines: These are chemicals found in many alcoholic drinks, and they can cause symptoms in some people.
  • Sulfites: These are preservatives used in many wines and can trigger allergic reactions.

On the other hand, alcohol intolerance involves the digestive system, not the immune system. So, if you’re intolerant to alcohol, it means your body has trouble breaking this substance down. This can lead to alcohol intolerance symptoms (e.g. stomach pain, headaches, and a flushed face).

So, although it’s quite easy to confuse alcohol intolerance with an alcohol allergy – they are different.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Allergy

The symptoms of an alcohol allergy can vary from person to person, but they can appear almost immediately when you drink alcohol.
Common symptoms include:

  • Skin reactions. This can look like red, itchy hives or rashes, and a flushed appearance.
  • Breathing problems, such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, or a tight feeling in your chest.
  • Fast heartbeat and heart palpitations.

Other unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach pain, are also possible. It might feel similar to food poisoning. Some people have also reported experiencing severe headaches or migraines shortly after consuming alcohol.

What Are Some Rarer Symptoms of an Alcohol Allergy?

Less common symptoms of an alcohol allergy might include low blood pressure, which can cause fainting. Some individuals may also experience a drop in blood sugar levels, which can cause someone to feel tired, shaky and confused.

Swelling of the face, lips, or throat is another possible (and serious) but less common symptom. And in severe cases, something known as anaphylaxis can happen, which is life-threatening if left untreated.

How Can You Tell If You Have An Alcohol Allergy?

After you have a drink, pay close attention to how your body responds within the first few minutes to an hour. Look for any unusual signs and symptoms like the ones we covered above (skin redness, itching, swelling, or breathing difficulties).

One thing to pay attention to is whether your symptoms appear immediately after drinking or if they take a few hours to develop. Immediate symptoms are more indicative of an allergy. It also might be a good idea to ask your family if anyone else has had similar reactions to alcohol, as allergic reactions can sometimes run in families.

If you’re having any reactions to alcohol, you likely either have an intolerance or an allergy. If you consistently have symptoms, make an appointment with your GP to confirm whether this is the case for you.

Diagnosing an Alcohol Allergy

If you think you might have an alcohol allergy, your GP can help you figure out what’s going on.

When trying to diagnose whether you’re having an allergic reaction or whether it’s alcohol intolerance symptoms, your GP will want to know exactly what happens when you drink alcohol and how soon after drinking these symptoms appear. They will also ask if anyone in your family has had similar reactions to alcohol. This information can be very helpful in understanding your situation.

Your GP might decide to do some tests to get more information. One common test is a skin test, where a small amount of the substance is placed on your skin to see if it causes a reaction.

Another option is a blood test, which looks for specific antibodies in your blood that indicate an allergic reaction. By gathering all this information and doing these tests, your GP can give you a clearer diagnosis of true allergy. This will help you understand why you’re having these reactions and what you can do to manage them.

Can I Still Drink Alcohol If I Have an Alcohol Allergy?

If you’re diagnosed with an alcohol allergy, you’ll need to avoid drinking to make sure you don’t have any severe alcohol allergy reactions.

Living with an alcohol allergy can be hard, but your health and well-being are more important than any drink. Plus, it’s entirely possible to have fun and not miss out without alcohol. If you find yourself struggling to reduce your alcohol intake, get in touch with our team today for free and confidential advice on alcohol.