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What Happens During an Allergic Reaction to Alcohol?

written by: Nishaat • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/28/2010

Alcohol has long been known as a stimulant in medical science. In some cases, it even stimulates an allergic reaction in the one consuming it. In this article, we discuss the mechanism of an allergic reaction to alcohol, its signs and symptoms, and suitable treatment procedures in detail.

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    Nowadays, it’s quite a common sight to see people drinking beer or some other form of alcoholic drinks. Alcohol has become a common kind of beverage that almost everyone enjoys. It has been proven to do a lot of good for the human body when taken in moderation. However, despite the enjoyment drinking alcohol provides, it can also do harm. One of the things that bring a downside to drinking it is allergic reactions.

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    How Does an Allergic Reaction to Alcohol Work?

    So how is an allergic reaction to alcohol possible? How does this happen and what can be done to cure and/or prevent it? First of all, allergy to alcohol is very unlikely, usually a person who exhibits allergy-like symptoms when ingesting alcohol is allergic to substances added to the beverage, rarely to the alcohol itself. These substances found in alcoholic beverages which may be possible allergens include: Gluten (gluten is found usually in malted barley, the main ingredient for beers), Histamines (chemical usually responsible for allergic reactions in the body), Sulfites (which are naturally occurring in beer and wine) and Yeast. Other substances found in alcoholic beverages which may cause allergic reactions are grapes and corn. Most times, it is a person’s alcohol intolerance which is responsible for the manifestation of symptoms that appear to be an allergic reaction from drinking alcohol.

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    High Alcohol Intolerance & Its Symptoms

    Alcohol intolerance is the case wherein the body fails to convert alcohol (toxic if not oxidized) into acetic acid. This happens usually because the enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase or ALDH fails to convert the alcohol into acetic acid or vinegar. Symptoms of such reactions are similar to that of any common food allergic reactions. Most common and preferably the most noticeable are nasal congestion and mild to moderate flushing of skin. The cardiovascular system is also affected as the reaction causes heart rate fluctuations (in the form of tachycardia or palpitations). A drop of blood pressure may also be experienced.

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    Avoiding an Allergic Reaction

    As for prevention of such reactions and avoiding even more dangerous complications, it is always best to abstain from drinking alcohol containing beverages such as beers and wines. It is always the wisest decision to avoid these kinds of beverages and the substances in it that may activate an allergic reaction. As for immediate treatment for allergic reactions, over-the-counter antihistamines are effective for relieving mild symptoms of allergic reaction such as hives and/or itches. The use of antihistamines is strictly for mild cases of reactions only. As for severe allergic reactions, an emergency dose of epinephrine might be needed. Immediate hospitalization is advised.

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    Conclusion

    So, to sum it all up, allergic reactions that come from ingestion or consumption of alcohol containing beverages are most likely caused by allergies to substances or chemicals that are found and are used in the preparation of the drinks. Some reactions are also results of intolerance to alcohol. Symptoms to this type of reaction are more or less similar to that of any other allergic reaction. Antihistamines can help treat minor symptoms but avoidance is a safer path.

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    Resources

    Web:

    MayoClinic: Treatments and Drugs for Alcohol Intolerance - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol-intolerance/DS01172/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

    FoodReactions: Alcohol Intolerance - http://www.foodreactions.org/intolerance/alcohol/index.html