There are several different understandings for “Alcohol Allergy”. Alcohol Allergy would provide a more in depth look at the different interpretations for the phrase alcohol allergy.
It is known that alcohol can have a negative impact on a person’s health in the long term. However, what about those who experience negative health impacts immediately besides the expected impairment?
This is where the conversation can turn to an alcohol allergy versus an alcohol intolerance can come into the picture. A common overlooked factor is the severity that a true physical allergic reaction would be. A lot of people with East Asian descent have an enzyme deficiency that makes their skin redden, or flush, when they consume alcohol. Nonetheless, a physical allergic reaction can be life threatening, and warrant immediate medical attention.
We will take time to look at the specific differences between the Alcohol Allergy Symptoms experienced for both an alcohol allergy and an alcohol intolerance. This should help give more clarity to the common misunderstanding of an alcohol allergy.
An Actual Physical Allergy to Alcohol
When someone has an allergy to alcohol, they would likely learn this before they being drinking alcohol. The reason for this is because they would have had a reaction to products that contain alcohol such as mouth wash and hand sanitizer.
With that being said, most individuals who know that they have an alcohol allergy would avoid consuming alcohol due to the risk of serious health consequences.
Diagnosing for an alcohol allergy would require meeting with you primary care physician. For them to be sure that you do have an allergy to alcohol, your appointment would usually include a blood test and possibly a skin test after a history of reactions to using products that contain alcohol.
However, accidents happen. Someone may not be aware that they are using a product containing alcohol, or they may not be fully aware of the extent of their allergy. Someone who experiences an alcohol allergy would exhibit similar symptoms as any other food allergy. Symptoms would include:
· Tingling sensation in the mouth
· Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
· Breathing problems
· In extreme cases, anaphylactic shock may occur
This allergy can be life threatening if a person’s throat swells to the point that they can no longer breathe. It is important to note that a true allergy to alcohol is quite rare.
Should you or someone you know experience these symptoms after consuming alcohol, it would be appropriate to contact emergency services.
The treatment for an alcohol allergic reaction would depend on the symptoms present. As with any food allergy, a plan for treatment if an allergic reaction occurs should be discussed with your primary care physician.
The following treatment regimen is not intended to be used in emergency situations. Rather to provide information that can be discussed with your physician.
If a person is experiencing a mild allergic reaction, it is likely that over the counter antihistamines would suffice in treatment. However, if symptoms persist it may be necessary to use additional antihistamines and/or epinephrine, also known as an EpiPen.
After the diagnosis of an alcohol allergy, it is likely that your physician would recommend that you avoid alcohol as much as possible. For some, the allergy may be tied to an ingredient in alcohol compared to the ethanol.
For example, someone who has an allergy to barley, it is possible to find alcoholic drinks that do not include barley. As with all health decisions, this should be discussed with your doctor and their direction should be followed. Continuing to consume alcohol after knowing that you have an alcohol allergy can put your health at risk.
Aging could potentially diminish the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older individuals mostly experience alcohol effects faster than when they were younger. Thus, this puts older individuals at higher risks for car crashes, falls, as well as other unintentional injuries that may be caused by drinking.
Alcohol Intolerance Symptoms
An alcohol intolerance, an inherited disorder, would be when someone’s digestive system has a negative reaction after they drink alcohol. This is more common than an actual physical allergy to alcohol. Alcohol intolerance is described by instantaneous unpleasant reactions after ingesting alcohol. It’s caused by an innate condition where the body cannot break down alcohol effectively.
The reaction that occurs with an alcohol intolerance is usually caused by a specific ingredient in the alcohol that was consumed. For example, some individuals have a reaction to wheat while others have the reaction to grapes.
Similarly to an alcohol allergy, the negative reaction to these ingredients would likely be known before a person begins drinking alcohol as a result of consuming the ingredients in other forms of food.
Having an alcohol intolerance means that you would likely experience mild discomfort and symptoms compared to the life threatening consequences associated with an alcohol allergy.
While rare, alcohol allergies could lead to symptoms like red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, stomach disturbances, and difficulty breathing. In a lot of cases, simply identifying what triggers the allergic reaction would help the individual seek an alternative beverage to enjoy.
Common symptoms associated with an alcohol intolerance include:
· Facial redness (flushing)
· Red, itchy skin bumps (hives)
· Worsening of pre-existing asthma
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Low blood pressure
· Nausea and vomiting
It is possible that an individual may miss the symptoms associated with alcohol intolerance as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are commonly associated with hangovers after drinking alcohol.
If you find yourself wondering if you do have an intolerance to alcohol, this is something that can be discussed with your primary care physician at your next appointment. Your doctor would be able to provide you with a better understanding and appropriate recommendations.
Alcohol Intolerance Treatment
Having a slight intolerance to alcohol or particular ingredients in alcoholic beverages might not need a trip to a doctor, however it should be discussed with them at your next visit. If any pain is experienced, contacting your doctor would be appropriate as this is an unusual characteristic of alcohol intolerance.
There is no known cure for an alcohol intolerance. A piece of living with an alcohol intolerance would be knowing if the reaction occurs with any form or alcohol, or if it can be tied to a specific ingredient such as wheat or grapes.
If you are able to tie your intolerance to specific ingredients, the recommendation would likely be to avoid forms of alcohol that contain that ingredient. If you are unable to narrow the intolerance down to a specific ingredient, it is likely that the recommendation would be to avoid alcohol all together.
With that being said, since the symptoms associated with alcohol intolerance are mild, a person may choose to continue drinking despite the negative consequences they experience afterwards.
Just to note, continuing to drink alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences is a common characteristic among alcoholics. If you can relate to that statement, it may be worth considering if your drinking behaviors are problematic and if healthy changes can be made.
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Differences Between Alcohol Allergy and Alcohol Intolerance
After reading the information above you can likely pick up on some of the differences between an alcohol allergy and an alcohol intolerance. Let’s highlight some of the main differences between an alcohol allergy and an alcohol intolerance.
1. The biggest, and probably the most important difference between an alcohol allergy and alcohol intolerance is the severity of symptoms experienced.
The chance of alcohol being life threatening is a significant difference and should not be taken lightly.
2. Another difference can be found in the treatment of an alcohol allergy and alcohol intolerance.
What Can Be Done to Help an Alcoholic with Alcohol Intolerance and/or an Alcohol Allergy?
While it is uncommon for an individual with an alcohol allergy to develop an addiction to alcohol, it is not impossible. Think back to the fact that some individuals are allergic to specific ingredients within alcohol compared to the ethanol itself.
With that being said, let’s talk about some treatment options.
Detoxification would be appropriate for an individual who is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious health consequences, including and up to death. Detoxification programs allow a person to detox from alcohol while under the supervision of medical professionals.
Inpatient Treatment Programs are a common recommendation for individuals who complete a Detox program. Inpatient treatment programs help provide individuals with psychoeducation about the disease concept of addiction as well as strategies to have a healthy recovery. Group therapy and individual therapy are common in inpatient treatment programs.
Outpatient Treatment Programs Outpatient treatment programs are often recommended after an individual completes an inpatient program, or for those who do not meet criteria for an inpatient program but still have problematic drinking behaviors. Outpatient programs often include group and individual therapy.
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