Allergies to Alcohol

What causes you to be allergic to alcohol?

Alcohol is toxic to our bodies unless it is converted into acetic acid, or vinegar. This is accomplished by an enzyme called Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH). In people who are allergic to alcohol there is a variation, or polymorphism, in this enzyme which makes it inactive. The alcohol then remains in your body without being metabolised as toxins. The resulting allergic reaction experienced is your body activating its immune system to attempt to get rid of these toxins.

Typical symptoms of an allergy to alcohol

The most common symptoms shown by individuals who are allergic to alcohol are migraines, diarrhoea, asthma, facial swelling, rashes, itchiness, watery and/or swollen eyes and bowel colic. Depending on the severity of your allergy, these symptoms can occur even after consuming only a small amount of alcohol.

An allergy to alcohol is actually quite rare though. It is more likely that you have an intolerance to it, rather than being definitively allergic to it. Light alcohol consumption is therefore fine for most people; it is only when you overindulge that it can become a problem. Some people’s tolerance to alcohol is just higher than others. If however you experience the above symptoms after one or less than one standard unit it could well be that you are allergic to alcohol. If you are unsure seek advice from your doctor or allergist.

What if I feel uncomfortable after consuming alcohol but my symptoms are different?

Most people are not allergic to alcohol exactly, but demonstrate an adverse reaction to it. This is because the gene in the body that is supposed to break down the toxins in alcohol is inactive. If you have this ‘inactive gene’ then these toxins, namely acetaldehyde, gather in the liver and bloodstream.

Symptoms of this include nausea and/or vomiting, headaches, flushing of the face, increase in heart rate, low blood pressure, feeling extremely tired or drowsy. Again, these symptoms can occur after even merely light alcohol consumption.

Drinking in moderation

Drinking a limited amount of alcohol is advisable for everyone, however, if you show symptoms of having a lower tolerance to alcohol than most it is particularly applicable. It is important to be aware of how alcohol affects your body and that you keep within a comfortable amount for your own health, especially if this happens to be well within the government’s guidelines for maximum alcohol weekly consumption.

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