It's the morning after an office happy hour, and you now find yourself nauseated with a thundering headache. You may have had too much to drink and now find yourself with a morning hangover, but you may also have allergies to alcohol. Have you ever considered that a possibility?
So that next time you wake up feeling "hungover" and decide to run off and try one of the many home remedies to cure a nasty hangover (greasy pizza, breakfast sandwich, or a bloody mary), you may want to think back and see if this kind of thing happens when you drink alcohol. Hangover symptoms can be perceived as collateral damage to a good night out, but they may actually be the result of an allergic reaction to ingredients in alcohol.
So how do you tell if you are really allergic to alcohol or just suffering from a normal hangover?
It is possible to experience an allergic reaction to alcoholic beverages, but the alcohol itself is usually not the reason for the reaction. It is most likely the ingredients, such as sulfur dioxide, yeast and additives that actually cause the allergic reaction and lead you to feel less than perfect.
Here are some ingredients in alcohol that can cause a reaction:
Gluten and Wheat
Gluten is found in malted barley, which is used to make beer. Some beers also contain wheat. Common distilled (condensed and evaporated) beverages that are sometimes made from wheat, rye, and barley include vodka, whiskey, gin and bourbon.
Because the gluten-free community has grown over the last 10 years, many manufacturers have begun making alcoholic beverages that are free from wheat and barley. Common alcoholic beverages that are naturally gluten-free include cider, wine, sake, and most brandies.
Histamine is generated by bacteria and yeast in alcohol and can cause an allergic reaction for some people. It is found in many alcoholic beverages, especially in red wine, which is high in histamine.
Sulfur Dioxide or Sulfites
Sulfur dioxide or sulfites are naturally produced in the production of alcohol and can cause an allergic reaction when people consume the alcohol. Wines and some home-brewed beers may contain sodium metabisulphite or sulfur dioxide. Ten percent of asthmatics react to sulfites in alcoholic drinks.
For sensitive individuals, sulfites can trigger asthma attacks or even anaphylactic shock. For this reason, U.S. labeling laws require any food or beverage with sulfite concentrations greater than 10 parts per million (ppm) to be listed on the label using the term "contains sulfites."
Yeast can cause an allergic reaction even though it is found in low levels in alcoholic drinks. The type of yeast used to ferment alcoholic beverages is a one-celled fungus known as brewer's yeast. Because little research has been done on yeast allergies and distilled alcoholic beverages, you should contact your allergist if you are allergic to yeast but would still like to consume it.
Although grape allergies are rare, they can still cause an ill affect. Wine is obviously the most prominent alcohol that is made from grapes, but you should also avoid Armagnac, cognac, vermouth, port, champagne, wine coolers and packaged martini mixed. There are also premium vodkas that are made out of grapes as well. Alternatives to wine and another other grape-based spirit could be Japanese plum wine or apple brandy.
Tree Nut Allergies
Tree nut allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children and adults, and nuts can be found in distillates and alcoholic extracts. Therefore, any alcoholic beverages that contain nut flavoring should be avoided. Additionally, if you have tree allergies, be sure to check the labels of bourbon and whiskey, because some are fermented in oak or other tree barrels which can cause an allergic reaction.
People with true alcohol allergies can have symptoms of stomach cramps, difficulties breathing, vomiting, and shortness of breath with even a small amount of alcohol. Reactions to various ingredients in alcoholic beverages will bring out different symptoms, including the following:
• A person allergic to sulfites may experience hives or anaphylaxis.
• A person allergic to histamines may experience nasal swelling and congestion.
• Alcohol high in sulfates may increase asthmatic symptoms in those with asthma.
• Alcohol may increase the reaction to food allergies.
Other symptoms related to the ingredients found in alcoholic beverages may include:
• Nasal congestion including runny or stuffy nose
• Rapid heartbeat
People who believe they've had a reaction to alcohol should consult an allergist immediately and get tested for allergies to ingredients in alcohol. For those allergic to a particular ingredient in alcohol, switching to a different beverage may help. For example, potato vodka is the most hypoallergenic alcohol. Antihistamines can also be helpful to resolve minor allergy symptoms for some people. For an unfortunate few, alcohol might have to be given up indefinitely. However there is only one way to know for sure, visit you local allergist and get tested.