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Alcoholic Drinks: Important Triggers of Allergy

Adverse reactions to alcohol are common and diverse in etiology.


Alcoholic beverages are made of grains (barley, corn, wheat), fruits, yeast, chemicals (ethanol), and additives (sulfur dioxide) that your body needs to break down, using enzymes in your liver.


Enzyme deficiency is more common in people of Asian descent, and in those who suffer from asthma, hay fever, or food allergies. Combining alcohol with medications also can trigger allergic symptoms.


True alcohol allergy is rare, but reactions can be more serious, potentially leading to anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction.)


The most common signs are nasal congestion, flushing of the face and neck, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat. The other symptoms could include headaches, heartburn, hives, diarrhea, or vomiting. In case of alcohol allergy, symptoms can be more severe and include trouble breathing, stomach pain, collapse, and potentially, anaphylaxis.


BEER. Usually made from 4 common allergens – yeast, hops, barley, and wheat. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you will need to refrain from drinking beer. In addition, there are other types of beer such as peanut butter and nut-flavored beer, as well as some craft beers with dairy and soy added. Also, vodka, whiskey, gin, and bourbon can be made using these allergens.


Yeast can cause an allergic reaction, especially in people with mold allergies. Commonly known as brewer's yeast, it's used to ferment many alcoholic drinks: beer, wine, and ciders. Symptoms vary, but most likely they include abdominal pain and bloating, breathing difficulties, and dizziness.


WINE. Red wine is a more likely culprit of an allergic reaction than white wine or beer due to higher levels of histamine. Usually, your body produces enzymes to break down the ingested histamine. However, wine can interfere with how this enzyme works, resulting in histamine overproduction that will lead to an allergic response.


Sulfur dioxide is another chemical that can cause reactions. It works as a preservative and controls the growth of yeast. White wine has higher levels of sulfites than beer or red wine.


DISTILLED BEVERAGES. Some liquors use tree nuts and most cream liqueurs contain eggs, two of the most common allergens. Bourbon and whiskey are commonly fermented in barrels made of oak which give those beverages its color and flavor but can also contribute to an allergic reaction in people with tree nut allergy.


Be mindful. Avoid drinking beverages that contain allergens you have been tested for and found to be sensitized, also be aware of cross-contamination and additives.


Remember that manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on the label, except for sulfites.


If you have any type of food allergy or allergic reaction occurred after drinking alcohol, it is important to talk to a specialist regarding your symptoms, and come up with a plan how to manage them.

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