SUNDAY, Nov. 6, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Alcoholic beverages can trigger allergic reactions or exacerbate existing allergies, experts warn.
Though rare, some people have allergies to the alcohol itself, while others are allergic to various substances in alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine, Dr. Sami Bahna, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Louisiana State University Medical School in Shreveport, La., said in an ACAAI news release. Symptoms may include red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, upset stomach and difficulty breathing.
Triggers can include various ingredients in beer and wine, including barley, ethanol, grapes, malt, hops, wheat and yeast. Other potential allergens are sometimes added during processing, including egg whites, which may be used during the filtering process, and sulfites, which occur naturally in wine but also may be added as a preservative.
Allergic reactions to an alcoholic beverage can range in severity from a minor rash to a life threatening asthma attack and anaphylaxis. The researchers pointed out alcohol could also aggravate existing allergies.
"Individuals can be allergic to the alcohol itself or an added ingredient, but even when people are not allergic, they may not realize that alcohol can worsen existing allergy symptoms, particularly food allergies," noted Bahna. "In these cases, the study pointed out, avoiding alcoholic beverages is the best way to avoid potential reactions."
Wine contains chemicals called tyramines, which can cause headaches, he added.
Bahna is slated to discuss case studies of alcohol-related allergic reactions Sunday at the annual meeting of ACAAI in Boston. He also pointed out that exposure to tobacco smoke can worsen asthma and allergies by making smokers more sensitive to airborne substances, like pollen and mold spores.
"People with allergies and asthma should be especially careful to avoid any exposure to tobacco smoke," Bahna said.
Anyone who suspects they had a reaction to alcohol, food or tobacco should see an allergist, Bahna recommended.
"In most cases, simply understanding what triggers the allergic reaction will help the person find an alternative drink to enjoy," Bahna said.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology provides more information on food allergies.