Does Your Hangover Mean You’re Allergic to Alcohol?

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Feeling badly after too much alcohol could be a sign that, well, you drank too much alcohol! But it’s possible your hangover is a symptom of something else.

What’s Alcohol Intolerance?

If you have what seems like an allergic reaction whenever you drink alcohol, you likely have alcohol intolerance. That doesn’t mean you’re allergic to alcohol; instead it means you’re allergic to one of the ingredients in your beverage of choice.

Ingredients that can cause an allergic-like reaction include:

  • Sulphites, an artificial additive used as a preservative
  • Yeast 
  • Grapes
  • Histamines, found in many foods and beverages, including wine (especially red) and beer
  • Gluten
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Hops
  • Egg or seafood protein
  • Wheat

The most common symptoms of alcohol intolerance are nasal congestion and skin flushing. More serious symptoms are wheezing, worsening of asthma, rashes, headaches, stomach pain, nausea and heartburn.  

The best way to tackle alcohol intolerance is to reduce the amount that you drink, or to stop drinking altogether. If your symptoms are serious, talk to your doctor about a skin prick test or an elimination diet to determine what ingredient is causing your reaction. Armed with the answer, you can adjust your alcohol consumption to avoid the ingredient.  

The most common symptoms of alcohol intolerance are nasal congestion and skin flushing.

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A true alcohol allergy is rare. With just a couple of sips, you’ll likely have a serious reaction, which can include trouble breathing, anaphylaxis, stomach cramps or collapse. Calling 9-1-1 is necessary if this occurs.  

Some Special Circumstances

Alcohol intolerance (being allergic to a specific ingredient in an alcoholic beverage) is often inherited. But these special circumstances also can affect your risk:

  • Suffering from Hodgkin lymphoma increases your risk. 
  • Some prescription medications also can increase your risk. 
  • If you’re of East Asian descent, you may have a genetic trait (about half share this trait) that causes flushing of the face, neck or the entire body when you drink alcohol. It’s the result of an enzyme deficiency that causes a toxic chemical product to temporarily build up in your body. 
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