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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. www.naet.com 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.

                  1. I have chronic hives. The kind that are bumps under the skin - not the red, raised welts. Alchohol is known to aggravate hives. It may be that other foods or chemicals can bring them out too. I would recommend that he go to an allergist.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Bite Me

                      I hope the moderators don't kick this message off until you've seen it. If you've got chronic urticaria, have you tried Traditional Oriental Medicine? I've gotten really good results for this condition. As I see you're in LA, you'll find tons of decent practitioners there.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Much of the Oriental Medicine is food and herb based, and as such IS food related.

                        This site has some good information on food properties

                        This one has more detailed info on herbal combinations

                        1. re: hannaone

                          Thanks hannone for the great sites! Very useful.

                        2. re: Miss Needle

                          Thank you for the suggestions. Are you referring to herbs? Accupuncture? Energy work? I am open to whatever works!! Stress and food are probably my biggest issues. I asked the allergist about alternative medicines, herbs, etc and she said she personally had no idea. But I will investigate. I have found that modifying what I eat has really helped. Berries, tomatos, tomato sauce, and citrus fruits are all out, and wine is cut back to just a splash now and then.

                          1. re: Bite Me

                            I was indeed referring to acupuncture and herbs. Energy work (reiki) may help as well, though I'm not as familiar with it. Most allergists/MDs don't know too much about complementary medicine, even the ones who are certified MD-acupuncturists as their training in this field is minimal at best. I was giving an acupuncture treatment to a friend of mine who is an allergist/immunologist with the NIH for her urticaria. It disappeared in about 15-20 minutes. Her usual course of treatment was Benadryl which would take a longer time to work (with sleepy side effects). She was shocked at the efficacy and mentioned this to her colleagues at the NIH, hoping to get them to conduct more well-designed trials in this field.

                            I'm sure you'll find somebody that you can work with in LA who will also understand your food issues. From what you tell me with your food aversions, I see a common element with the sour taste (which generally signifies Liver (meridian, not organ) issues). Good luck to you.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              >>>I was giving an acupuncture treatment...<<<

                              So *that's* why you have that screen name! Delightful.

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                very informative. thanks for sharing. i have never tried acupunture, but my sister started to receive it about a year ago and loves it. i will look into it.

                        3. DH might be lucky. I'm allergic to alcohol in terms if my liver and the like! But without hives I just drink too damn much!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I'm with you, Sam. To adapt an old phrase: I'm not a fisherman with a drinking problem, I'm a drinker with a fishing problem!

                          2. I always figured I wasn't metabolizing the alcohol well. I get hot ears, splotchy chest, and sometimes restless legs when I try and sleep. It is all very uncomfortable and I rarely drink anymore.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: elgordoboy

                              From my experience if you are having reactions from beer and hard liquor such as whisky, scotch, cheaper vodkas and gin, it could be allergies caused from grains. (and yes gin is made from white grains and flavored with juniperberries). If you suspect it is grain, check out the vodkas made from potatoes. I am seeing a growing selection of potato vodkas and even vodka made from grapes (Ciroc).

                            2. I have had sporadic reactions (hives or reddening of the face) to alcohol. The first time I can recall, it was champagne (hives). A few months ago with wine at a tasting my face reddened but I couldn't tell if it was from white or red wine. I tasted the white wine a few days later and had another reaction.

                              I was wine tasting last week in Napa and had champagne first (Gloria Ferrar) and did feel my face redden and turn warm, but no hives. We went to Coppola next, then Opus One and I didn't have any other reaction.

                              I've never had a reaction severe enough to consider getting tested, or carrying an epi pen. The effect seems to dissipate after a few minutes.

                              1. I'm a social drinker who occasionally deals with 'red face', sometimes extending far enough to 'red chest' -- regardless of what it is that I am drinking: beer, wine, gin, vodka... so I'm pretty sure it's the alcohol I am reacting to, if on occasion, and NOT the various possible ingredients of the actual drink. I am not Asian; like every good German I was raised on beer :-D

                                1. I saw a program the other day (sorry can't remember if it was the today show, 20/20, discovery health, etc) that talked about a percentage of the general population that has difficulty or cannot properly digest the alcohol or it's by product. It appears to be genetic and the symptoms are red face and even hyper tension and high blood pressure when alcohol is comsumed on an empty stomach. Hopefully, someone else saw the program and will be able to shed more light on this topic.

                                  1. I have reactions to alcohol also, I have a few sips and my throat and ear gets itchy and then I start to get a hive on my lip then I start to get itchy all over. I have since stopped drinking, but also crave that drink of nice cold beer that my husband is having with his wings and I do have a sip but that is as far as I take it. Now I have tried the non alcohol beer and I can drink a couple of those ( they have a lower alcohol content). I am not sure of what is causing it and I would love to able to have a drink with the girls without sitting and scratching!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Cmd044

                                      I have issues too. I think I may be allergic to the sulfites because I get asthma attacks from smelling wine, but I can't really stomach any alcohol without getting incredibly nauseated. I can have about 1-2 sips and that's it. At this point I'm used to not being able to drink so it doesn't bother me so much anymore.

                                      1. re: queencru

                                        Sulfite allergy is extremely rare. You wouldn't be able to eat a hundred foods if that was the case. The asthma attacks when smelling wine are suspicious, and I have an idea what might be causing them, but you need to see a doctor. Not as fast as Cmd44, but soon.

                                      2. re: Cmd044

                                        Cmd044 -- It may be an alcohol allergy. They're quite rare, but some people have them. I'm guessing you're allergic to something in beer, and the non-alcohol beer has less of it. That something you react to could be in a hundred things.

                                        The important thing is to see a doctor. An itchy throat today is a closed throat tomorrow. Get tested immediately. Sound harsh? It could save your life.

                                      3. I don't have any problems with alcohol (aside from occasionally drinking too much of it) but my sister gets ridiculous migranes from flavored vodka. She can drink anything else, even regular vodka, but the flavored stuff specifically gives her an instant migrane. We learned this when I was in college, I ordered her a Citron Seven and we had to go home within a half hour of her drinking it. We thought it was a fluke and she tried it again a few weeks later and the same thing happened. Poor girl. :)

                                        1. I have had this problem for the last couple of years. I had been a somewhat heavy drinker while in college, than all of a sudden after 3-4 years of that I ystarted to get a VERY red face when I drink. However, it is not a consistent red, it is better described as a blotchy, camoflauge sort of redness. Regardless... I have not yet found anyway to kick this. I talked to my doctor, and he said, if you get his when you drink HELLO... DON'T DRINK! But, I don't feel sick or anything just hot in the face, and very embarrassed. Also, my finance is very worried it could be a symptom of a larger problem. From the two doctors I have talked to it is NOT. Very simply, either stop drinking, or deal. I choose to deal.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: tartaylei19

                                            I have the same thing happen - but it seems to subside by the 3rd drink. My advice? Just hang in there a little while :-)

                                            1. re: tartaylei19

                                              Sounds like rosacea, to me. Rosacea is most common in folks with an Anglo-Saxon background, I think, and is best known for the "WC Fields" nose effect it can have in extreme circumstances. Google it for more info....

                                              1. re: Niki in Dayton

                                                Thanks, I will. Although the answer is probably to not drink any more. I tried that for 3 months and no one in my family could stand me! One day I just ordered a beer at lunch and my husband said "Oh, Thank God!"

                                                1. re: sparkalina

                                                  I'm with you, there, sparkalina. Some of the recommendations for those who have rosacea are abstaining from alcohol, hot (spicy) foods, and hot tubs. I'm not willing to give up any of the three! Well, maybe if I start getting the WC Fields nose....

                                                  My SIL, however, who doesn't indulge in any of those three and still has fairly severe rosacea, uses a medication originally intended to fight yeast infections as a topical ointment to keep hers under control.