Alcohol intolerance can cause immediate, uncomfortable reactions after you drink alcohol. The most common signs and symptoms are stuffy nose and skin flushing.
Alcohol intolerance is caused by a genetic condition in which the body can't break down alcohol efficiently. The only way to prevent these uncomfortable reactions is to avoid alcohol.
Although not a true allergy, in some cases, what seems to be alcohol intolerance might be your reaction to something in an alcoholic beverage — such as chemicals, grains or preservatives. Combining alcohol with certain medications also can cause reactions.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol intolerance — or of a reaction to ingredients in an alcoholic beverage — can include:
Having a mild intolerance to alcohol or something else in alcoholic beverages might not require a trip to a doctor. Simply avoid alcohol, limit how much you drink or avoid certain types of alcoholic beverages.
However, if you have a serious reaction or severe pain, see your doctor. Also, if your symptoms seem to be linked to an allergy or a medication you're taking, see your doctor.
Alcohol intolerance occurs when your body doesn't have the proper enzymes to break down (metabolize) the toxins in alcohol. This is caused by inherited (genetic) traits most often found in Asians.
Other ingredients commonly found in alcoholic beverages, especially in beer or wine, can cause intolerance reactions. These include:
In some cases, reactions can be triggered by a true allergy to a grain such as corn, wheat or rye or to another substance in alcoholic beverages.
Rarely, severe pain after drinking alcohol is a sign of a more serious disorder, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Risk factors for alcohol intolerance or other reactions to alcoholic beverages include:
Depending on the cause, complications of alcohol intolerance or other reactions to alcoholic beverages can include:
Unfortunately, nothing can prevent reactions to alcohol or ingredients in alcoholic beverages. To avoid a reaction, avoid alcohol or the particular substance that causes your reaction.
Read beverage labels to see whether they contain ingredients or additives you know cause a reaction, such as sulfites or certain grains. Be aware, however, that labels might not list all ingredients.
Besides conducting a physical exam, your doctor might request these tests:
The only way to avoid alcohol intolerance symptoms or an allergic reaction is to avoid alcohol or the particular beverage or ingredients that cause the problem. For a minor reaction, over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines might help reduce symptoms, such as itching or hives.
Although alcohol intolerance usually isn't a serious issue as long as you don't drink alcohol, you might want to discuss it with your doctor at your next appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
For alcohol intolerance, some questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions you have.
Your doctor might ask:
Avoid the beverage or beverages that seem to cause your reaction until your doctor's appointment.
If you drink a beverage that causes a mild reaction, over-the-counter antihistamines might help relieve symptoms. However, for a severe skin reaction, weak pulse, vomiting or trouble breathing, seek emergency help right away, as you could be having an anaphylactic reaction.
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