How You Can Be Allergic to Alcohol

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Different types of alcohol can cause allergic reactions in some people.

An actual allergy or allergic reaction to something is the result of your body’s immune system reacting to a substance that is not normal in your body. The most common conditions are skin rashes, asthma and hay fever. The basic cause of allergies is unknown, though some say it is the immune system over reacting. It is not known why some people can become allergic to some things and not others.

Allergies are different then intolerance to something, for example someone who is lactose intolerant might get an upset stomach or gastrointestinal pains when drinking milk. This is different than an allergic reaction or an allergy.

Many normal symptoms associated with drinking alcohol are also signs of allergies or an allergic reaction including the red eyes, runny nose, reddening of the face and neck, itchy eyes, tight chest, hives, vomiting and eczema. Being intolerant or actually allergic to alcoholic beverages would depend on which alcoholic beverage makes you feel the worst, since there are different ingredients in different alcoholic beverages.

Sulfur dioxide and sulfites

Being allergic to sulfur dioxide is rather common. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) has been added to wine for centuries to prevent the wine from turning to vinegar and having a longer shelf life. It is added to white wine during almost every stage of its production. Sulfur dioxide is a sulfite and some people are allergic to sulfites. So much so that since 1987 wine sold in the United States must have a warning label stating that the product contains sulfites. Sulfites are known to cause asthma like symptoms in some people. There are also fairly high amounts of sulfur dioxide in most dried fruits such as dried apricots and grape juices, if you don’t have the same symptoms after consuming them, then most likely the sulfur dioxide in wine is not your problem.


Histamine is a protein that is involved in the triggering of many allergic responses. Which is why so many allergy medicines contain an anti-histamine to counter the histamine response in the body to an allergy. Histamine occurs naturally in wine and there is usually more histamine in red wine than in white wine. If you are particularly sensitive to histamine, then this could cause allergy type symptoms.



Do you get allergy type symptoms only when you drink beer, then you could be allergic to yeast. Symptoms can be sneezing, itchy throat, itchy eyes, stuffy nose to even throwing up. You could be allergic to the yeast in beer. Though if you don’t have these symptoms with bread then you could possibly be allergic to the hops, malt, wheat or barley in beer depending on what ingredients the certain beer was made from. If you find yourself having these allergic symptoms with a certain beer, you can try a different brand of beer. Beers can also change their ingredients at times without your knowing it, so if for years you drank one beer and then you get these symptoms, try changing to a different beer.


Vodka can have different ingredients as well. Vodka can be made with molasses, rye, wheat, potatoes, grain, soybeans or grapes. If you are allergic to any of those ingredients, then that would show up as an allergy when you drank vodka.

Newer drinks on the market such as Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade are all made with malt in the United States and with vodka in other parts of the world.

Could you be allergic to alcohol itself, which is possible, but more likely it is one of the ingredients in the alcohol you are allergic to or have some intolerance for. The best way to determine if your are allergic or have an intolerance to alcohol is to start a food and beverage diary, writing down everything you eat and drink and how it makes you feel, including the next day. You could also go to an allergist and actually be tested for the above ingredients or alcohol itself to see if you are indeed allergic to any of them. Even if you have been drinking alcohol your entire adult life, you can develop an allergy or at the least an intolerance to any one of a number of ingredients in the alcoholic drink.

Sam Montana © 27 January 2009


Sam Montana
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Sam Montana

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