Being allergic to alcohol is not impossible, but it’s more likely the ingredients in alcoholic beverages that cause allergic-like reactions. If you ever experience hives, swelling, itching, even serious trouble breathing after a drink, run, don’t walk, to a reputable allergist. Simple tests can tell you what’s going on.
Likely culprit: Sulfur dioxide and sulfites.
Allergies to sulfur dioxide are pretty common. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) has been added to wine for almost ever as a preservative. Asthma-like symptoms can occur in some people. No wonder the U.S. started slapping warning labels on wine back in 1987. Most dried fruits (like, dried apricots) and grape juices have sulfites. Eat these as an at-home test. If you don’t have symptoms, sulfur dioxide is off the hook.
Likely culprit: aldehyde dehydrogenase.
If you flush when you so much as toast the bride, you may have a deficiency of the enzyme that helps break down alcohol. Other symptoms include nausea and rapid heart rate. The reaction is most common in people of Asian descent, and is often mistaken for an allergic reaction.
Likely culprit: yeast.
If you have a funny reaction only to beer, it could be the yeast. Sneezing, itchy throat, itchy eyes, stuffy nose, even throwing up could plague those who are sensitive to yeast. If you don’t react to bread, then maybe it’s not the yeast in beer, but the hops, malt, wheat or barley.
Likely culprit: vodka ingredients.
Molasses, rye, wheat, potatoes, grain, soybeans or grapes can all be found in vodka. If you know you’re allergic to any of these, read labels carefully. Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade are all made with malt in the United States and with vodka in other parts of the world, FYI.
So. That kid in college who said he was allergic to jello shots? He wasn’t altogether fibbing.
Please note: This article was originally published on 5/13/11 and updated on 2/14/23.