Experts aren’t sure what causes wine allergies, but the symptoms can range from irritating to life-threatening.
Have you ever enjoyed a champagne with dinner but ended up sneezing and itchy afterwards?
Does red wine give you a headache?
Do you ever feel like your asthma is flaring up after having a glass of Chardonnay?
If so, then you might suffer from an allergy to wine.
Symptoms of wine allergy
Most symptoms of allergies to wine are uncomfortable and irritating, but a few can be genuinely dangerous. In extreme cases, the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology warns that people with wine allergies may experience anaphylaxis. If this occurs, it is important to seek medical help immediately, as anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
More often, however, symptoms resemble those of other mild allergies. Studies have found that the most common reactions to wine include itching, swelling in the face, sneezing, runny nose, cough, flushed skin, or headache.
A report published in the journal Thorax also noted that wine allergies can cause asthmatic symptoms, either as a reaction to the wine itself or because your wine allergy triggers your preexisting asthma. These symptoms can include trouble breathing, wheezing, or tightness in your chest.
Because these symptoms are associated with other conditions, such as hay fever or infections, you may not immediately associate them with the glass of wine you had a dinner. However, if you notice the same cluster of symptoms occurring each time you have a drink, it may be the wine itself causing them.
Causes of allergies to wine
Researchers have been unable to pinpoint a single cause of allergies to wine. Instead, a variety of chemicals may be to blame.
Many wines contain sulfite, a type of salt that stops fermentation. It occurs naturally in most wine and is sometimes added as a preservative. Studies have found that sulfite allergies can cause a variety of symptoms that range from flushing to anaphylaxis.
However, the Food and Drug Administration estimates that less than 1 percent of the population is actually allergic to sulfites. To find out whether sulfites are causing your wine allergy, a report published by ABC News recommends eating a dried apricot. Dried fruit generally contains a high concentration of sulfites, so a reaction to the apricot indicates that sulfites are the likely culprit.
If sulfites aren’t the cause of your allergy, your reaction may be triggered by histamines. These chemicals are produced by the body during an allergic reaction, causing symptoms like sneezing and runny nose. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the histamines that are naturally present in wine may trigger allergy symptoms in individuals who are already highly sensitive or have other allergies.
Another common chemical in wine is tyramine, which is produced during fermentation. Because tyramine causes the blood vessels in your body to constrict and raises your blood pressure, it might be responsible for causing some symptoms of wine allergy, such as headaches or shortness of breath. If you are sensitive to tyramine, you may also react to cured meats or aged cheese.
Wine allergy vs. wine intolerance
Even if you react to wine, you may not be truly allergic.
Some people suffer from what is known as a wine intolerance. This means their body under-produces an enzyme that is necessary to break down wine as it is digested. A true allergy is caused by an overreaction in the immune system, not an enzyme deficiency.
A report by the Wall Street Journal suggests that some individuals who are sensitive to wine lack an intestinal enzyme that helps metabolize histamine. Other studies found that reactions like flushing and skin irritation are due to lowered levels of the enzyme that metabolizes acetaldehyde, the toxin in alcohol that causes headaches and vomiting when you drink too much.
Practically, however, the results are very similar. A study on wine intolerance found that the symptoms include rashes, diarrhea, sneezing, flushed or itchy skin, headache, and shortness of breath. Some participants in the study experienced symptoms similar to an asthma attack.
You may not be able to determine on your own whether you have a wine allergy or an intolerance. But either way, you should avoid drinking wine in the future: just one glass can be enough to trigger a reaction.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re not confusing the symptoms of an allergy or intolerance with the headache and nausea you experience several hours after drinking heavily.
That feeling isn’t an allergy — it’s a hangover.
December 16, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN