Allergic to Beer: Cause, Solutions and More!

Do you know that you can be allergic to beer? Here we give you all the facts about this allergy, like why it happens, how to check and handle it, etc.

Beer allergy may be a form of alcohol intolerance that can cause unpleasant reactions immediately after consuming the drink. Intolerance to alcohol is a genetic condition where the body cannot effectively break down or metabolize alcohol. The most common manifestation or symptoms of intolerance to beer are skin flushing and nasal congestion. This condition is sometimes inaccurately referred to as beer allergy and the only way to prevent beer allergy is to avoid beer altogether.

Sometimes beer allergy can be caused by a reaction to an ingredient in the beverage such as a chemical or a preservative. Allergic reactions may also be caused by combining beer with certain foods or medications. In rare cases, however, these reactions could be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires proper diagnosis and immediate treatment.

Know the Basic Facts About Beer Allergy

  • Causes of beer allergy: Beer allergy is a common thing and may arise when there is an inherent deficiency in an enzyme needed to metabolize or eliminate beer from your body. Most cases of alcohol intolerance come from drinking red wine, followed closely by whisky, beer and other wines. The most frequent cause of the reaction is not alcohol itself but the congeners or chemicals, which give the beverage its characteristic aroma, body and flavor.
  • Amount of beer that can cause allergy: When you have an allergy, your body treats alcohol as a threat and reacts to it by producing an antibody called IgE (immunoglobulin E) which causes an allergic reaction in you. People with true allergy to alcohol may react to even very small amounts of alcohol like about 10ml wine or beer which may provoke symptoms like severe rashes, sudden difficulty in breathing, painful stomach cramps or even collapse. But this condition is very rare.
  • Relation of beer allergy and food allergies: It is more important for you to remember that alcohol could increase your risk of suffering from a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis to other known allergens like peanut butter or else. Alcoholic beverages increase the gut permeability, which permits the passage of more food into the body. This could explain why people with mild food sensitivity may not have an allergic reaction when the food is taken alone but reacts when it is taken with alcohol.
  • Beer allergy and other health conditions: Alcohol can also exacerbate primary conditions like asthma, rhinitis and urticaria, causing symptoms like wheezing, headaches and flushing of the skin.

Which Ingredients Can Cause Beer Allergy?

Ingredients in beer that can cause beer allergy or alcohol intolerance include:

1. Histamine

This compound is found in many alcoholic beverages, especially red wine. It can cause headaches, nasal congestion, flushing, asthma and digestive symptoms. Intolerance to histamine may be caused by the inability to break down or eliminate the compound.

2. Yeasts

Although found in low levels in alcoholic drinks, yeasts can cause true allergic reactions. The symptoms include wheezing, sneezing, diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, dizziness, white coated tongue, sore throat, skin rashes and abdominal pain.

3. Sulphites or Sulphur Dioxide

Wines and home-brewed beers may contain sodium metabisulphite or sulfur dioxide. It is a chemical used to clean equipments for brewing and may be present in high amounts. 10% of asthmatics react to sulphites in alcoholic drinks, but anaphylaxis is rare.

3. Additives

Substances like sodium benzoate and tartrazine can trigger asthmatic attacks and urticaria.

3. Plant-Derived Allergens

  • Fruit extracts: Although fruit extracts, like from grapes, berries, oranges, apples and coconuts, may be destroyed during processing of beer and other alcoholic drinks, any residuce of these can cause allergic reactions.
  • Wheat and gluten: Some beers contain wheat and gluten, a protein contained in malted barley. Other distilled alcoholic drinks like gin, vodka, whiskey and bourbon are made from barley, wheat, and rye but have been considered safe for people with celiac disease.
  • Hops: Some people may be sensitive to hops, an ingredient which gives beer its bitter flavor. They may experience runny nose, swelling of the eyelids, skin rashes and asthma.
  • Malted barley: Allergic reaction to malted barley is common in people who are sensitive to pollen, causing tingling sensation in the face, hives, swelling of the tongue and lips, dizziness, coughing and chest discomfort.
  • Molds: Sensitivity to molds is rare, but some people may react to fungal spores found in corks from wine bottles. To avoid allergic reactions, run the bottle's neck under cold water before removing the cork.

Note: The best way to avoid these ingredients found in beer and other alcoholic drinks is to avoid drinking these beverages all together.

How to Diagnose If You Have Beer Allergy

  • To determine whether you have beer allergy or intolerance to one of its ingredients, a doctor will ask for your medical history and symptoms you experience when drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • The doctor will also do a physical examination and possibly other laboratory tests to rule out other existing conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
  • A skin test will be helpful in determining the specific substance to which you may be allergic. This involves a skin prick test, wherein small amounts of various substances, such as grains found in beer, are used to elicit a skin reaction. A positive reaction is indicated by the appearance of an enlarged red bump on the skin or other skin reactions.
  • A blood test to measure levels of IgE will also show if your immune system is demonstrating an allergic reaction to certain substances.

How to Deal With Beer Allergy Properly

  • Avoid allergens: The best way to avoid symptoms of beer allergy or any type of alcohol intolerance is to stay away from beer, alcoholic beverages or any particular ingredients that trigger the problem. You may also need to carefully read labels on beverages to see if they contain additives or ingredients that can cause a reaction.
  • Take medications: Minor reactions such as itching and hives may be relieved by taking prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines. However, a serious allergic reaction may not be treated completely by antihistamines alone.
  • Wear a medical bracelet or necklace: If you have experienced a severe allergic reaction to beer or any other things, it is advisable to wear a medical bracelet or similar necklace to alert others that you can have an allergic reaction, so that others can help you avoid those allergens.
  • Carry emergency autoinjector: Your doctor may also advise you to bring an emergency autoinjector like EpiPen or Twinject, which contains epinephrine (adrenalin). This device has a needle that provides a single dose of epinephrine, which you can immediately inject on your thigh in case of emergency.
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