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Mar 12, 2008 08:17 PM

Allergic to Alcohol?

Every time my DH drinks, whether it's a glass of wine or a couple of beers, he breaks out in hives. Not all over just on his wrists and arms. He also tends to feel terrible for the next few days? I'm positive he's got some kind of allergy to alcohol, but haven't really heard of before. Does anyone else have this problem or know someone who does? He has quit drinking at all, but sometimes misses a glass of wine with dinner or a beer with the "boys".

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  1. Have him see an allergist. He may not be allergic to ethyl alcohol, but to something that's in the beverage, like malt (for beer), or one of the fining agents for wine, or something else.
    But it's important for him to be checked out: today's hives can be tomorrow's throat closing.

    6 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      I agree. There could be other things that he's allergic to. Does he have a problem with vodka?

      1. re: Miss Needle

        An allergy to alcohol is very uncommon. The basic thing to remember is that an allergy is a reaction to a protein, and you don't find much of that in alcohol. Most likely, there's a substance IN the beer or wine to which jcattles's husband is allergic: wheat, corn, yeast, hops, barley, and the egg or seafood proteins that are used to "fine" [filter] and clarify wine.

        But allergies can mature, so to speak, and the severity of reactions increase.
        Best to get to a doctor before an emergency forces you to one.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          "...allergy is a reaction to a protein,.." - Allergies are not a reaction to a protein but to allergens and subsequent excessive activiation mast cells and basophils by IgE which will give the inflammatory response everybody experiences when having an allergic reaction. You can have an allergic reaction against penicilin (and many other non-protein subsances) which is beta-lactam antibiotics and not a protein.

          In addition, the human produces about an once of alcohol anyway (endogenous ethanol production), so that it is very unlikely that anybody is allergic against alcohol.

      2. re: maria lorraine

        Sulfites in wine are a problem for many people. is a form of allergy treatment that involves acupuncture and might help determine what in particular the individual is allergic to.

        1. re: lgss

          I'm sorry, you're incorrect about sulfites. Lots of new research says sulfites are not the cause of any wine reaction, unless you already suffer from asthma or have the rare sulfite oxidase deficiency. Lots more info on CH if you do a search.

          Though I have no doubt that acupuncture can help with allergies, my feeling is that it is a treatment to be employed AFTER an exact diagnosis by an allergist.

          Best, M.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            NAET tested for a treats allergies.

      3. He is not alone. My neck becomes extremely red & warm, depending on what I have had to drink.I only feel bad if I drink too much though.
        I agree with maria lorraine, anaphylactic shock could ruin your night out he should speak to his Dr.

        7 Replies
        1. re: louweezy

          Thanks for your comments. Though your "neck becomes extremely red & warm," this is not an allergic reaction. Usually flushing or reddening, often of the face and chest, is caused by the too-quick conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde. This happens in persons who drink alcohol infrequently. Another possibility is the very common hypertensive reaction to the tyramines in wine. Much more about this on the wine board if you'd care to search the terms.

          Here's one thread that's good and that goes into the specifics of "allergies" regarding alcohol:

          1. re: maria lorraine

            i get a similar reaction that is affectionately called "asian glow" (i'm filipino). many people of asian descent get the same thing. after some reading some forums about it on the internet, there seems to be a consensus that Pepcid AC helps tremendously. i have no idea why it works, but i've tried it and it really works great. very little to no redness in my face and chest when drinking. thankfully i found out about it before my wedding so i didn't have to worry looking like a tomato in all the pictures.

            1. re: rebs

              It's a common response to alcohol in Asian populations. Of course, as you drink alcohol a little more frequently, you body trains itself to process the alcohol without a reaction. You may no longer need the Pepcid AC.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                If only this were the case! I still get Asian blush even though I get plenty of practice.

              2. re: rebs

                Many Asian people lack a certain enzyme that breaks down acetylaldehde (by-product) of alcohol metabolism. Most Asian people I know do turn red even after 1/2 a drink. However, my husband and I remain unaffected.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Glad to hear it!

                  The enzyme is dehydrogenase, and half of Asians have a genetic variation of this enzyme that causes them to metabolize alcohol too quickly into acetaldehyde -- which causes the redness and flushing as it builds up in the body. But there's a step two that makes the acetaldehyde (and the redness and flushing) hang around longer. The variant enzyme also causes the too-slow metabolism of acetaldehyde into the benign acetic acid. So alcohol metabolism by folks with that variant enzyme is both too fast -- in its conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde -- and too slow -- in its conversion of acetaldehyde into acetic acid.

                  But I've heard from a number of Asian wine-drinking friends that after they drank a very small amount of alcohol (a few sips of wine or beer) regularly, their bodies somehow learned to metabolize alcohol normally, with no redness or flushing. Of course, this is anecdotal info and not scientifically valid. But it's curious.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    Totally correct, Miss Needle! People metabolize ethanol via two pathways, the major pathway is via the alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenases (two enzymes) that convert alcohol to acetaldehyde and acetaldehyde to acetic acid. Many Asians have 1 or 2 non functional aldehyde dehydrogenase genes, which leads to the accumulation of acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is thought to lead to flushing and nausea partially through histamine mediated pathways, which is why benadryl and zantac or pepcid (all antihistamine drugs) may help some people with the flushing.

                    The other minor pathway to metabolize ethanol is via the Cytochrome P450 2E1 enzyme in the liver, which is inducible, which means that if you consume ethanol regularly, your body will start to produce more enzyme to metabolize the ethanol. This is one of the reasons why chronic alcohol consumers build up a tolerance to the effects!

                    Yay for science!

            2. I have a friend who thinks she is allergic to alcohol. When she drinks it, she gets hives and becomes ill almost instantly. We just thought she was a lightweight and that her excema was acting up, but it would happen after a couple of sips.

              Thinking about it, though, she's eaten food that contains wine and had no reaction. (Cheese fondue, pasta with white wine in sauce and her father cooks with rice wine.) So I don't think it's the other ingredients for her. It's the alcohol itself.

              1. The same thing happens to me-redness & hives in certain locations (mostly just my neck and hands). I've never seen an allergist or doctor for it but it isn't severe-it only happens with hard liquor.

                1. I always thought I was allergic to alcohol because my face gets red and I get stuffy, even after one beer. The weirdest thing is that fairly often, the bottoms of my feet itch! Doesn't matter if it's beer, wine, liquor.