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Is your favorite wine making you itch, sneeze or wheeze?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Wine can cause allergic reactions that can be serious for some.

Allergists warn not everyone gets a health perk from wine. Drinking wine – in moderation that is – can be a healthy thing. But for some individuals, a glass of Chablis or Cabernet can trigger a reaction from allergy that can even be severe.

Wine and beer contain natural occurring ingredients that can cause itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and in severe cases, difficulty breathing. Other potential allergens are added to wine during processing.

Wine, alcohol and tobacco allergies were recently discussed at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

“Although it’s rare, allergies to alcohol can cause symptoms such as red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, upset stomach and difficulty breathing,” said allergist Sami Bahna, MD, ACAAI past president, and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Louisiana State University Medical School in Shreveport. “In most cases, simply understanding what triggers the allergic reaction will help the person find an alternative drink to enjoy.

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Some of the triggers for allergic reactions from drinking wine include egg whites used for filtering and sulfites used as preservatives.

Naturally occurring ingredients in wine and beer that could lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis – severe allergic reaction that causes inflammation of the airways and difficulty breathing – include barley, ethanol, grapes, histamine, hops, malt, oats, tryptamine, tyramine, wheat, and yeast.

A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine even reported cases of allergy to insects in wine, particularly in Spain. In the report, five cases of allergy from drinking grape juice or newly pressed wines were discovered to be from the Hymenoptera – winged insects - based on antigen testing.

The most common reaction to wine is headache that comes from tyramines found in red varieties, explains Dr. Bahna.

If your favorite wine is making you itch, sneeze or wheeze, see an allergy specialist. The good news is allergies are treatable – even those induced by allergens in fine or perhaps mediocre wine.

Image credit: Morguefile