Allergic to Alcohol? 10 Common Symptoms of Alcohol Intolerance

Sue Quinn explores the telltale signs of intolerances and allergies, the difference between them and what to do if you think you’re affected. Alcohol intolerance, also known as alcohol sensitivity, is often caused by a change that affects an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme is part of the body’s process for breaking down alcohol and changes a chemical called acetaldehyde to another chemical called acetate. The change caused by alcohol intolerance makes it impossible for the body to break down acetaldehyde as it should, causing this chemical to build up in the body. People may also have an allergic reaction to specific ingredients in alcoholic drinks rather than the alcohol itself.

can you become intolerant to alcohol

The immune system usually produces antibodies to fight harmful substances in the body. However, in people with an alcohol allergy, the system mistakenly produces antibodies to attack alcohol following exposure to the substance, triggering various symptoms. If you continue to drink alcohol and suffer from alcohol intolerance, this is likely to cause liver damage.

How is alcohol intolerance diagnosed?

An inherited metabolic disorder means you got this condition from your parents — they each passed down a mutated (changed) gene that resulted in this disorder. Even if your parents what causes alcohol intolerance don’t have the condition, they can pass it to you. Doctors have found that a problem with ALDH2 (the enzyme that helps break down the byproduct of alcohol) is genetic.

  • Even drinking a small amount of alcohol (ethanol) causes unpleasant symptoms.
  • Moreover, if a person has a serious reaction after drinking alcohol, they should consult a doctor sooner to determine what may be causing their symptoms.
  • Sensitivity to this fungus is uncommon, but for those at risk, a visible mould-laden cork could expose them to an unwarranted dose of allergen.
  • In this article, we’ll explain the difference between alcohol intolerance and allergy, as well as the causes, symptoms and treatment.
  • “We asked, ‘How many ounces of alcohol do you think you’ve received?
  • Even if you know alcohol makes you feel poorly, it can sometimes be hard to figure out the root cause of the problem.
  • Alcohol intolerance is due to the buildup of acetaldehyde, which is caused by a problem affecting alcohol dehydrogenase.

With a serious illness, it’s better to abstain from alcohol to avoid further taxing the body. Doing so will also give it the best chance of fighting the illness effectively. Some people may find that their alcohol tolerance becomes higher with time. This is likely due to “practice” as they continue to use alcohol regularly.

How to test for alcohol intolerance

Some may find that if they lose weight, their tolerance will drop. Certain medical and health conditions (like those mentioned in the above section) can also make alcohol more difficult to tolerate. In some cases, they might use an oral challenge test to diagnose an allergy or intolerance. In this procedure, they will ask you to consume a sample of your suspected trigger. Some types of sulfites might also trigger an asthmatic attack if you have asthma.

  • If you’ve ever had an alcoholic drink only to find your nose running and your stomach roiling, you may have an alcohol intolerance.
  • Individuals may also explore alternative alcoholic beverages or nonalcoholic options that they can tolerate.
  • In a 2020 review in BMJ, Harvard professor and placebo expert Ted Kaptchuk found that placebo responses can account for 50 to 75 percent of the drug treatments for pain.
  • Tolerance is an important factor in understanding our drinking habits.

Most people who think they have an alcohol allergy actually have an alcohol intolerance (also called acute alcohol sensitivity). People often call alcohol intolerance an alcohol allergy, and vice versa. People who have a true alcohol allergy should avoid drinking alcohol entirely.

Mayo Clinic Press

In a 2020 review in BMJ, Harvard professor and placebo expert Ted Kaptchuk found that placebo responses can account for 50 to 75 percent of the drug treatments for pain. As we raise our glasses to the complexity of alcohol-related reactions, a journey through the nuances of congeners, histamines, yeasts, sulphites, additives and plant-derived allergens unfolds. When it comes to allergies to any component of an alcoholic drink, you must never consume it. Alcohol intolerance occurs when your body doesn’t have the proper enzymes to break down (metabolize) the toxins in alcohol. This is caused by inherited (genetic) traits most often found in Asians.

  • Many of the effects of drinking every day can be reversed through early intervention.
  • You should never ignore the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • Alcohol intolerance is different to having a ‘low tolerance’ to alcohol.
  • In fact, your body might have an inability to process other constituents of alcohol, such as histamine, yeast, grains, sulfites, or preservatives.
  • It responds to alcohol by producing antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE).
  • True alcohol allergy is thought to be rare, while alcohol intolerance is more common.

Be aware, however, that labels might not list all ingredients. Alcohol intolerance occurs when your body doesn’t have the proper enzymes to break down (metabolize) the toxins in alcohol. Also, if your symptoms seem to be linked to an allergy or a medication you’re taking, see your doctor. Research suggests that up to 10 percent of asthmatics are sensitive to sulphites, with the severity of reactions varying from mild to life-threatening.

Other types of intolerance

With an alcohol allergy, a person’s immune system overreacts to alcohol. Alcohol intolerance is a genetic condition where an individual’s digestive system cannot properly break down the substance. Symptoms are more likely to be a reaction to the ingredients in a drink, or the alcohol causing other types of allergies to worsen. For example, alcohol may exacerbate preexisting asthma conditions.

can you become intolerant to alcohol

Then go to your nearest emergency department for follow-up care. Some people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma experience pain after drinking alcohol. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that can affect your lymphatic system. Many people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma develop enlarged lymph nodes. But in rare cases, they become painful after alcohol consumption. If a person develops a mild intolerance to alcohol or an ingredient in beverages, they may be able to manage it themselves simply by avoiding or limiting alcohol or certain drinks.