Sudden Alcohol Intolerance (And Differentiating From Alcohol Allergies)
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Have you ever gone out for drinks with friends and suddenly experienced uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol intolerance? Perhaps you've wondered whether it is an alcohol allergy or intolerance. These are two different conditions, but they seem very similar.
The purpose of this article is to take an in-depth look at the symptoms, causes, and risks associated with alcohol intolerance. It also aims to dispel the common confusion between a mere intolerance to alcohol and the much more severe symptoms of alcohol allergy.
By the end of this guide, you'll understand everything you need to know about alcohol intolerance.
Jump to: Alcohol intolerance treatments
Alcohol Intolerance Is Not An Allergy To Alcohol
Can you be allergic to alcohol? Yes, but intolerance and an allergy to alcohol are two very different things and it's important to understand their differences.
This distinction is essential and one that needs clarification before we talk about ways to help your intolerance to alcohol. The reason for this is that the consumption of alcohol can sometimes lead to fatal consequences for people with a real ethanol allergy, as opposed to a mere intolerance.
Alcohol Intolerance Symptoms
If you’re thinking “alcohol makes me sick all of a sudden” and are trying to figure out if you have an intolerance or allergy, we will help you answer that question. Many people confuse alcohol intolerance with an allergic reaction - but they're very different.
Here are some of the most common alcohol intolerance symptoms. However, not everyone experiences them all, or in equal severity. For example, you might deal with severe facial flushing and headaches, but none of the other unpleasant symptoms.
One of the most common symptoms of alcohol intolerance is getting red facial flushing, often referred to as the alcohol flush reaction. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as an Asian alcohol allergy. Unfortunately, this one is difficult to hide.
Red flushing can appear on the face (most commonly) but can also show up on your neck, cheeks, shoulders, chest, and arms. For those with severe flushing, they may experience it all over their body.
How an allergy is different: The main distinction between the two conditions is the severity of the symptoms: intolerance will be uncomfortable, but an allergy could be life-threatening.
Stuffy Nose or Nasal Congestion
Another common symptom you may experience is a stuffy nose or nasal congestion. This symptom can be similar to symptoms of Hay fever or seasonal allergies. If the nasal congestion is quite severe, it can also make headaches (another symptom) more uncomfortable.
Some people with alcohol intolerance find that certain types of alcoholic beverages make this symptom worse compared to having other drinks. Many report that red wine, in particular, can make a stuffed up nose much more likely than compared to other drinks like vodka or rum. Typically, wine and beer trigger allergic reactions in more people, and speaking to customers and clients that appear to develop an alcohol intolerance, a specific type of alcohol seems to be the instigating factor, leading many to think they have a wine, beer, or tequila allergy.
How an allergy is different: During an allergic reaction, you may feel your nose, throat, and/or mouth swell. Rather than simply getting a stuffed up nose, your nose could begin to swell up and make it much more difficult to breathe. This allergy symptom is much more intense than simply getting a stuffy nose or a runny nose.
Dizziness or Lightheadedness
Alcohol intolerance can make you feel dizzy or unsteady. As you can imagine, this can turn quite dangerous if the dizziness is severe. If you experience this particular symptom, it’s important to seek medical advice before drinking alcohol again.
Even though alcohol intolerance is not an alcohol allergy, it doesn’t mean that any intolerance symptoms aren’t serious. It’s crucial to keep an eye on your reactions to alcoholic drinks since everyone is different and some symptoms may be more severe than others.
How an allergy is different: An allergy can also bring about dizziness but to a more serious degree.
Headaches or Migraines
Another common symptom of alcohol intolerance is experiencing headaches or migraines (in more severe cases). Like mentioned earlier, experiencing nasal congestion can make this symptom even more noticeable and painful.
Headaches caused by alcohol intolerance may remind you of headaches felt during a hangover. However, these are usually brought on immediately after you drink alcohol rather than the next day. For some, headaches and other symptoms of alcohol intolerance can be brought on very quickly.
It's not hard to imagine that experiencing a pounding headache after a pint of beer can really detract from enjoying your night out with friends.
How an allergy is different: Histamine experienced during an allergic reaction can decrease blood pressure which can cause headaches in some people. However, this symptom can be seen in both alcohol intolerance and in allergies, so it may be hard to differentiate.
Many people with alcohol intolerance report feeling a rapid heartbeat or experiencing a more pronounced and increased heart rate. If you have an intolerance to alcohol but decide to drink anyway and experience this symptom, it can be very difficult to ignore.
Those with existing heart conditions will also need to be careful before you drink alcohol in case alcohol intolerance could exacerbate their pre-existing conditions.
This particular study was done with relatively healthy young adults, 35 years old on average. We can assume that if a similar study was done on older patients or those with existing heart conditions or those with alcohol intolerance, it may show even more dramatic results.
How an allergy is different: An allergic reaction can also trigger a rapid heartbeat, so it can be hard to tell these two symptoms apart from an allergy versus intolerance.
Labored or Restricted Breathing
Labored or restricted breathing can be commonly brought on by alcohol intolerance. Some may even experience wheezing instead.
This condition can also make pre-existing asthma worse, so it’s important to keep an eye on your symptoms. Restricted breathing or worsening asthma can start for some with only one alcoholic beverage.
Asthma UK reports that red wine, white wine, cider, and beer are the most common alcoholic beverages to trigger asthma symptoms. Clear alcohol like vodka and gin contain less histamine and sulfites, so are less likely to cause a reaction. However, this isn’t the case for everyone.
How an allergy is different: Like mentioned with nasal congestion, an allergy can cause your nose, throat, and/or mouth to swell. This can easily disrupt your ability to breathe normally and can cause severely restricted breathing. This symptom is very important to keep an eye on, especially if you have asthma.
Unfortunately, diarrhea is also a common symptom of alcohol intolerance. While it doesn’t happen to all individuals with this condition, it’s still fairly common.
This can leave you feeling sick and dehydrated, which can also make hangovers the following day even worse. Making sure you drink enough water can help offset the dehydration.
Wine is reportedly one of the main culprits for this reaction. Wine contains tannins (which are found in the skin of grapes) which many people react negatively to, including experiencing diarrhea.
How an allergy is different: Intense stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea have all been reported during certain allergic reactions.
How The Symptoms Of Alcohol Intolerance Progress
The onset of symptoms is usually noticed by slightly more laboured breathing after consuming alcohol. Most sufferers will first report minor breathing difficulties, traditionally accompanied by a noticeable increase in heart rate.
Approximately 20 to 30 minutes after alcohol consumption, sufferers will feel a hot or tingling sensation around the eyes, cheeks, forehead, and ears.
Following these symptoms is commonly a red flushing skin reaction lasting anywhere between 30 minutes to a few hours. The duration depends on the amount of alcohol consumed and a person's tolerance to alcohol.
More severe cases of intolerance can also involve headaches that occur approximately one to two hours after alcohol consumption and last up to several hours.
Alcohol Intolerance Causes
Alcohol intolerance can be caused either by a genetic trait or a damaged liver, the former being the primary reason. Let's take a look at some other common causes.
In this case, a person suffering from alcohol intolerance has problems breaking down alcohol in their body.
The cause of this is a genetic deficiency in the ALDH2 enzyme, which affects the way the liver metabolises alcohol, impeding the body's ability to process ethanol into the inert acetic acid. This deficiency results in an accumulation of a toxic metabolic byproduct called acetaldehyde. Check out our complete guide on this subject for more information!
Our bodies naturally created histamines which are chemicals also found in certain foods and alcoholic beverages like beer, champagne and wine.
When histamine is not adequately broken down, it accumulates. This build-up causes symptoms with an accent on nasal congestion and skin flushing.
Sulfites have been very useful to us since Roman times as additives for preserving foods and beverages while preventing bacterial growth. However, sulfates can be found naturally in many alcoholic drinks like wines (mainly white), beer, vermouth, sake and some others.
If you have a sensitivity or intolerance to sulfites, the reaction may increase when consuming sulfites-rich alcohol. The symptoms are similar to those caused by histamine intolerance and can easily be confused with allergy-like symptoms. Doing a test can confirm or deny the actual cause of the alcohol intolerance.
Some people may experience uncomfortable symptoms when drinking alcohol because they are intolerant to an ingredient in certain alcoholic beverages.
Grapes, wheat, hops, and gluten may be present in the alcoholic beverage, which is causing the problems, instead of the reasons mentioned above.
By knowing what ingredients cause you issues, you can avoid those alcoholic drinks and make an informed decision about what to drink.
Alcohol Intolerance Remedies
There are no permanent treatments for intolerance to alcohol. Are you forced to avoid alcohol forever in an effort to avoid a severe allergic reaction?
Fortunately, there are various things one can do to minimize the severity of the reaction while still having alcoholic beverages every now and then. This article looks at the most common methods people use to deal with their symptoms of alcohol intolerance.
You could avoid alcohol, or at least drink less. Or, consider choosing your drinks more wisely. Certain types of alcohol trigger intolerance in certain individuals. Drinking alcohol that contains ingredients you're intolerant to is obviously a bad idea - and will result in flushing or other symptoms.
Of course, be sure you're staying hydrated when drinking too - this will help your body process alcoholic beverages more effectively.
Supplements That Can Help With Alcohol Intolerance
Certain supplements can help the body metabolize alcohol quickly, such as Sunset Alcohol Flush Support. By assisting the body with breaking down alcohol effectively, the individual won’t experience as many negative symptoms. You can continue consuming alcohol without the sudden onset alcohol intolerance you've been dealing with!
Of course, no supplement is 100% effective against negative symptoms from alcohol, but at least some supplements can help you drink a bit more comfortably. Your best bet if you want to 100% prevent alcohol intolerance is to avoid alcohol.
While supplements like Sunset are designed for Asian Flush or alcohol flush reaction, their main basic function is to break down alcohol as quickly as possible.
This means that it can also be effective for those who cannot break down alcohol as effectively anymore. In both cases, the individual needs help getting rid of alcohol from their system, as the body cannot do so properly. Go check it out and see if it is the right alcohol intolerance treatment for you! Or, you could always just avoid alcohol altogether. The choice is yours.
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