Beer allergy may be a form of alcohol intolerance that can cause unpleasant reactions immediately after consuming the drink. 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. Intolerance to alcohol is a genetic condition where the body cannot effectively break down or metabolize alcohol. The only way to prevent beer allergy is to avoid beer altogether.
Sometimes beer allergy may be due to 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 some medications. In rare cases, however, these reactions could be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires proper diagnosis and immediate treatment.
Facts about Beer Allergy
A true allergic reaction to beer or alcohol involves production of IgE antibody, which causes the allergic reaction. It is very rare, although some cases of skin reactions such as rashes have been reported. People with true allergy to alcohol may react to even very small amounts of alcohol (about 10ml wine or beer) which may provoke the appearance of severe rashes, sudden difficulty in breathing, painful stomach cramps or even collapse, although this condition is very rare.
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 certain foods. Alcoholic beverages increase the gut permeability, which permits passage of more food into the body. This could explain why people with mild food sensitivity may not always react when the food is taken alone but reacts when it is taken with alcohol.
Alcohol can also exacerbate primary conditions like asthma, rhinitis and urticaria, causing symptoms wheezing, headaches and flushing of the skin.
Intolerance to alcohol such as beer is more common and adverse reactions to it or to ingredients in it may arise when there is an inherent deficiency in an enzyme needed to metabolize or eliminate it from the 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.
Ingredients That Cause Beer Allergy
Some ingredients in the drink may cause beer allergy or alcohol intolerance. These include:
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 due to inability to break down or eliminate the compound.
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.
Sulphites or Sulphur Dioxide
Wines and home-brewed beers may contain sodium metabisulphite or sulfur dioxide. It is a chemical used to clean equipment for brewing and may be present in high amounts. Ten percent of asthmatics react to sulphites in alcoholic drinks, but anaphylaxis is rare.
Substances like sodium benzoate and tartrazine can trigger asthmatic attacks and urticaria.
- Fruit extracts - Although fruit extracts (from grapes, berries, oranges, apples and coconuts) may be destroyed during processing of beer and other alcoholic drinks, these can cause true 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.
The best way to avoid these ingredients found in beer and other alcoholic drinks is to avoid drinking these beverages.
Diagnosis and Tests of Beer Allergy
- Symptoms description - 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.
- Physical examination - 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.
- Skin test - 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.
- Blood text - A blood test to measure levels of IgE or immunoglobulin E antibodies will also show if your immune system is demonstrating an allergic reaction to certain substances.
Treatments and Prevention of Beer Allergy
- 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 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 certain foods, it is advisable to wear a medical bracelet or similar necklace to alert others that you may have an allergic reaction in case you are not able to communicate.
- 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.