4 Signs You Might Be Allergic to Alcohol

POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd

If you start to feel a little weird after drinking, it could mean way more than just a few too many glasses of wine. And if you frequently experience adverse symptoms when drinking alcohol, it could very well mean that you've developed an allergic reaction, where your body can't metabolize it as it should.

Turns out, there are a few common symptoms that appear when you're allergic to alcohol, and we were able to discuss them with Dr. Sonia Batra, MD, MSc, MPH, a dermatologist and cohost of the television show The Doctors. But as many of these are prevalent in other types of medical conditions, it's worth seeing an allergist for a proper testing (a blood prick test) and diagnosis.

And as an allergy to alcohol can be an inherited trait, you might want to tap into genetics and inquire with your family. Some people have ALDH2, a gene variant, which happens to be more common in those of Asian descent, and it means the body can't metabolize alcohol efficiently, Dr. Batra told POPSUGAR.

Red, Hot Skin

If your face is getting sweaty and flushed, it could be the alcohol talking, but if your face turns extremely red, this could indicate an allergic reaction.

"Alcohol opens up blood vessels and increases flushing," Dr. Batra said. So it makes sense to get a little heated. Once you start drinking, your body metabolizes the alcohol into acetaldehyde. But "when your body can't neutralize the acetaldehyde fast enough, the blood capillaries in your face dilate, resulting in further flushing and redness due to histamine release," she explained. And your body might respond negatively to this rise in histamine, which is common in wine and beer. (Especially red wine.)

At high levels, alcohol actually causes blood vessels to constrict, which temporarily increases blood pressure, she added. When your body can't break down the histamine, due to inefficient enzyme capacity, those levels stay elevated, making you red and rashy, and you might even notice a rapid heart rate.


Hives and bumps can happen, as acetaldehyde can stimulate that histamine release, which your body then reacts poorly to when you have an allergy to alcohol, Dr. Batra said. What's more, sensitivity to ingredients in the certain alcohols, such as grains, like wheat, barley, and rye, can also cause allergic reactions. Histamines, which naturally occur in wine, and sulfites, a preservative used in wine, can also trigger allergy and asthma-like symptoms, she said.

"The best way to avoid hives and bumps is to limit drinking or to avoid the specific types of alcohol that trigger the reaction," she said. A cool compress can be applied to settle inflammation. Very rarely, hives can be caused by anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. If you feel your symptoms worsening, stop drinking immediately and see a doctor.

Trouble Breathing

Due to the rise in histamines, breathing difficulties and stuffy/runny noses when drinking can happen. "A histamine intolerance can lead to inflammation in soft tissues, like lungs and nasal passages, which can swell and lead to stuffy nose and sinus pressure," Dr. Batra said. "Cold-like symptoms — itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and sneezing — are also side effects of a histamine intolerance."

If you have a preexisting respiratory condition, like asthma, symptoms might worsen due to the level of histamines in alcohol (which can't be metabolized well). "Asthma can be exacerbated by these histamines, because of the increased inflammation of airways."

Diarrhea and Nausea

If you have stomach pain and nausea when drinking, don't be so quick to blame it on that pizza. "Alcohol can increase stomach acid, irritating the digestive tract," Dr. Batra said. And when your body can't break down the alcohol in the body, your digestive system can get out of whack. "Diarrhea occurs because drinking can affect the amount of water in your large intestine, and if there is a lot of fluid, stool will pass quicker," she said. A tip? "One way to curb diarrhea is to avoid drinking caffeine with alcohol and to eat easily digestible, plain foods — not the greasy fries you are probably craving."