If you or someone you know has experienced an adverse reaction after consuming alcohol, it’s normal to feel alarmed. But, understanding whether you are dealing with an alcohol intolerance or alcohol allergy is essential for your well-being and health. Here, we look at the symptoms of an alcohol allergy and highlight the difference between this and an alcohol intolerance.


What Is An Alcohol Allergy?

Just like other allergies, an alcohol allergy is an immune system response to certain ingredients – in this case, alcohol or the ingredients in alcoholic drinks. When someone with an alcohol allergy consumes alcohol, their body mistakenly identifies the alcohol as a harmful and toxic substance, which triggers an allergic reaction. This is different from an alcohol intolerance, which is when the body struggles to metabolise alcohol because of enzyme deficiencies.

Individuals are most commonly allergic to histamines, yeast or sulphites, which are all found in alcoholic beverages. Histamines are found in wine, champagne and beer and are produced during the fermentation process.

Yeast is also used during fermentation in wine and beer. Sulphites are added to wine and other alcoholic beverages to help preserve it. If you are allergic to alcohol, understanding the specific triggers of your allergy can help you avoid these ingredients and practise safer alcohol consumption.


What Are The Common Symptoms Of An Alcohol Allergy?

Like other allergies, alcohol allergy can vary in severity and from person to person. Symptoms can also appear immediately or up to a few hours after consumption. The most common symptoms include:

  •     Hives, rashes and itchy patches on the skin
  •     Swelling around the face, lips, tongue or throat
  •     Breathing problems, wheezing, or a tight feeling in the chest
  •     Nausea and vomiting
  •     Stomach cramps
  •     Diarrhoea

As with any allergy, there is also the risk of anaphylaxis, which is a severe and life-threatening reaction requiring immediate medical help. The most common symptoms of this include breathing difficulties, a drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing this, get medical help right away. Understanding the signs and symptoms of alcohol allergies can help you to identify them quicker and get the right treatment before the issue escalates.


Alcohol Intolerance Vs. Alcohol Allergy

There is a key difference between allergy and intolerance, and knowing this is essential – not just for safe alcohol consumption but also to maintain your overall well-being. While both alcohol allergy and intolerance can cause discomfort, the reasons for the reaction and the symptoms differ.

Alcohol Intolerance

The main cause of alcohol intolerance is a lack of enzymes required to metabolise the alcohol, namely the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). The most common symptoms of this include headaches, flushed cheeks, nausea, and a quick heartbeat. Typically, intolerance doesn’t include the immune system, and symptoms are less severe compared to an allergic reaction.

Alcohol Allergy

An allergic reaction is an immune system response to a specific ingredient. In the case of alcohol allergies, the immune system wrongly perceives alcohol or specific ingredients in alcoholic beverages (such as yeast, sulphites, and histamines) as a threat. The most common symptoms include swelling, hives, breathing issues, and anaphylaxis. These symptoms can become so severe that they become life-threatening.


Testing For An Alcohol Allergy

Speaking to a healthcare professional is key as they will be able to diagnose you properly. This can be done via the following testing methods:

  •     Skin Tests: In this method, small amounts of alcohol or allergen ingredients are applied to your skin to observe a reaction.
  •     Blood Tests: This approach measures the number of antibodies present, which is related to allergic reactions, and requires a simple blood sample.

Both methods should be completed by a medical professional, under the guidance of a professional allergist or immunologist, who can ensure accurate results and appropriate treatment. If you are diagnosed with an allergy, it is important that you avoid alcohol and specific allergen ingredients that trigger your own reaction.


Tips For Managing An Alcohol Allergy

If you have been diagnosed with an alcohol allergy, it’s important that you take proactive steps to avoid alcohol allergens to prevent any further reactions.

  •     Carefully read labels to understand the ingredients in all alcoholic beverages, and avoid drinks that contain sulphites and histamines, two common allergens.
  •     Look for alternatives that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Gluten-free and low-histamine options are ideal.
  •     Avoid beer, wine, and champagne, as these are more likely to contain allergens than clean drinks like gin or vodka.
  •     Tell friends and family about your allergy to ensure they can support you.
  •     If prescribed, make sure you always carry your medication to manage any severe reactions.

By following these tips and being aware of your own triggers, you can significantly reduce your risk of an allergic reaction. Not to mention, you’ll be better able to enjoy social occasions with confidence.


How We Can Help

Understanding the difference between alcohol allergy and alcohol intolerance, as well as the symptoms of both, is essential to being able to enjoy alcohol safely.

What’s more, if you do think you are suffering symptoms of alcohol allergy, it’s important that you consult a medical professional as they will be able to test and accurately diagnose you. This will help you to manage your condition better and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

If you need any support regarding your alcohol use or perhaps want some advice on how to cut down your intake, our friendly team is here.

We have supported hundreds of people to regain control of their lives through counselling, treatment and more. So, whether you have any questions about alcohol usage, want to support a loved one through their journey or perhaps just want to know about treatment in your local area, our expert team can help.


  • [1] alcohol allergy - https://www.allergyuk.org/resources/reactions-to-alcohol/
  • [2] alcohol intolerance - https://patient.info/news-and-features/can-you-be-intolerant-to-alcohol-and-what-are-the-symptoms
  • [3] key difference between allergy and intolerance - https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/alcohol_allergy_intolerance