What’s the connection between alcohol and allergy symptoms?
It’s the height of allergy season, and you’re plagued by those typical symptoms: stuffy nose, itchy scratchy throat (and maybe even trouble breathing).
Beyond staying indoors, keeping your windows shut and taking medication, what more can you do? Many lifestyle factors (including diet and drinking habits) may be affecting your allergies. Some people even suffer from alcohol allergies or alcohol intolerances; alcohol allergy symptoms are similar to seasonal allergy symptoms.
To date, little has been known about the effect of alcohol and allergies. Yet, two recent studies suggest that alcohol may have an impact on seasonal allergies. It’s not the alcohol, per se.
Beer, wine and liquor contain histamine, which is the critical chemical mediator of allergies and the target of most over-the-counter allergy treatment medications.
Wine and beer additionally contain sulfites, which can trigger symptoms similar to allergies, such as headache and nasal congestion.
A 2005 study from Sweden found an increase in allergy symptoms among thousands of people who reported alcohol-related nasal symptoms.
Nasal congestion was the most common symptom as well as sneezing, nasal discharge and breathing symptoms.
Red wine and white wine were the most frequent triggers, and women (for unclear reasons) were approximately twice as likely to be affected as men.
There is also some crossover between alcohol side effects and allergies symptoms, meaning you may not be able to differentiate between sinus inflammation caused by alcohol versus sinus inflammation caused by allergies.
Allergy symptoms may vary from person to person; however, many allergy sufferers report similar symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of allergies may include:
Allergies share many symptoms with cold and flu viruses, yet most patients with allergies don’t develop a fever or nausea during persistent symptoms.
Less-common allergy symptoms may include drowsiness, confusion, hives and stomach issues — all of which are side effects of alcohol use. It may be difficult to distinguish these symptoms from alcohol side effects. And the side effects of alcohol may exacerbate allergy symptoms, too.
Common alcohol side effects vary from person to person. Side effects may become more severe the more alcohol is consumed. One serving of alcohol may have less of an effect on a person than three servings of alcohol. Side effects of alcohol may include:
Different types of alcohol may also lead to different side effects — especially if the person has an alcohol sensitivity. For example, if a person has a sensitivity to the tannins in wine, they might experience side effects such as a headache or stomach pain after one glass.
Some people suffer from alcohol intolerance (sometimes referred to as alcohol allergies). People with alcohol intolerances suffer from symptoms similar to those of allergies. The most common alcohol allergy symptoms include:
People with alcohol intolerances cannot efficiently process alcohol. The body’s enzymes that process alcohol can’t process the alcohol fast enough, and the person may become sick.
This is different from alcohol flush reaction, which is when the body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde at an accelerated rate. Alcohol flush reaction shares several symptoms with alcohol intolerance, but the causes are completely different.
Alcohol intolerance may be developed later in life, or someone could be born with alcohol intolerance. Some people may also be allergic to ingredients in alcoholic beverages, such as wheat in beer or tannins in wine. Wine allergy symptoms are also similar to seasonal allergy symptoms, though symptoms around the mouth and tongue may be the most dominant ones.
People with existing asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and seasonal allergies were also more likely to experience allergy symptoms after alcohol consumption.
Another study showed not just an association between alcohol and allergy symptoms but a link between alcohol and the risk of developing new allergies.
Following over 5,000 young women who were free of seasonal allergies at baseline, researchers found that consumption of two or more alcoholic drinks a day was associated with an increased risk of developing seasonal and year-round allergies over time.
Alcohol can also impact health in a myriad of ways that overlap with allergies. For example, both sleep patterns and headaches, may both be symptoms of alcohol use and allergies.
Alcohol acts as a sedative, which interacts with neurotransmitter systems and negatively impacts sleep, while sleep disruption and fatigue are common complaints during allergy season — especially when nocturnal cough and/or nasal congestion are present.
Consumption of alcohol may also lead to sleep disturbances, such as snoring, waking during the night and poor quality of sleep.
Allergies may also cause sleep apnea, a condition where the breathing passages are obstructed by soft tissue.
Both alcohol and allergies may reduce sleep quality. They may prevent someone from entering deep REM sleep or disturb natural sleep patterns.
Similarly, headaches are a frequent allergy symptom that can be more intense when sinuses are inflamed. You can see how quickly allergy symptoms might get worse when you drink alcohol.
So should you skip that glass of wine during allergy season?
More studies are needed to confirm the association between alcohol and allergies. But if you find that your sniffles get a bit worse after drinking alcohol, it’s not a bad idea to keep a food diary and see if there is a consistent correlation.
If so, you might have an alcohol sensitivity contributing to worsening allergy symptoms.
Understanding your allergy triggers will also help you better understand other causes of nasal congestion or allergy-type symptoms, such as alcohol.
The good news is that while it may not be possible to “cure” allergies, most allergies are treatable. Between lifestyle changes, natural allergy treatments and allergy immunotherapy, there are several ways to treat allergy symptoms.
While one allergy treatment might not be the best route to freedom from symptoms, you may want to try several different methods to dull or prevent allergic responses.
When it comes to alcohol and allergies, lifestyle changes may greatly reduce allergy symptoms and alcohol side effects.
Since alcohol and allergies are linked, you may simply want to avoid activities that stimulate both. If you keep an alcohol and allergy journal, you should be able to determine which activities combined with certain amounts of alcohol trigger symptoms and side effects.
Common lifestyle changes that may lead to fewer allergic responses and alcohol side effects, such as inflammation, sleep disturbances and respiratory issues may include:
The good news is that there are several types of allergy medications that may ease allergy symptoms.
Antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, saline sprays and eye drops have been proven effective at easing and preventing allergy symptoms, such as redness, inflammation, itchiness, sneezing, watery eyes and nose and sinus pressure.
The not-so-good news is that most of these medications don’t mix well with alcohol. In fact, doctors generally advise against drinking alcohol while taking antihistamines or steroids.
If you want to enjoy a few drinks on a warm spring evening, you may want to try allergy immunotherapy.
Allergy immunotherapy has been proven effective in reducing allergy symptoms in 85% of patients. Many allergy immunotherapy patients may reduce their allergy medication doses — or even cease allergy medication altogether.
The two types of allergy immunotherapy include subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) and sublingual immunotherapy (treatments taken orally).
Most Americans have heard of subcutaneous immunotherapy (or allergy shots).
Allergy shots are injections of small amounts of an allergen. These shots may be administered weekly during the initial few months of treatment and monthly during the maintenance phase.
As small doses of allergens are introduced to the body, the immune system should build up a tolerance to them and stop producing an immune response (histamine).
Allergy shots are effective and safe. Your doctor may request you stay in the office for observation for up to 45 minutes after your injection. This is to monitor for anaphylaxis response to the allergens. You may also need to carry an epinephrine pen for emergency use.
Another type of allergy immunotherapy, sublingual immunotherapy, has also been proven to reduce allergy symptoms. This type of therapy is similar to allergy shots; yet, it’s administered orally.
Patients may not need to visit a doctor for this treatment, as anaphylaxis is rarer. Treatments are administered at home; patients may need to schedule a video appointment with a clinician for observation.
Here at Curex, we offer at-home allergy testing and at-home sublingual immunotherapy solutions.
Connecting with an allergy specialist at Curex can also help you better understand your seasonal allergies, triggers and optimal therapies. Though immunotherapy might not address alcohol allergy symptoms, it may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms, triggered by alcohol.
Your clinician will guide you through the process —- from allergy testing to possible lifestyle changes and sublingual immunotherapy options.