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What Is the Connection Between Alcohol and Hives?

Sulfites, which some wine makers use as a preservative, can cause an allergic reaction.
The high yeast content of beer can cause negative reactions among those with yeast intolerances.
Some people of asian descent suffer from a strong intolerance toward alcohol.
Small cluster of hives.
Anti-itch cream can be applied to alleviate the symptoms of hives.
Food allergies or intolerances can cause a person to develop a rash after drinking alcohol.
Most wines contain sulfites, which can be troublesome for those allergic to the preservative.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2014
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People sometimes develop hives shortly after consuming alcohol as a result of an allergy or sensitivity. Hives are typically red, itchy skin welts that come and go in response to certain irritants either on the skin or in the blood; where alcohol is concerned, the reaction is almost always internal. Sometimes touching alcohol can cause an outbreak, but this is very rare. Most reactions are caused by certain ingredients or components in alcoholic beverages. A condition known as alcohol intolerance is sometimes also to blame, and negative interactions with medications and supplements may also be a cause.

Basics of the Reaction

Hives are known medically as urticaria, and are an immune system response to irritants. When an allergen enters the body, the immune system attempts to fight it and flush it out and hives are a standard, if extreme, reaction. The welts can occur anywhere, but are most common on the back, legs, and arms. They typically last for a few hours, but will usually go away on their own once the irritant has been removed.

The human body processes alcohol as a toxin, but normal, healthy people are able to ingest small amounts without experiencing itching, burning, or other skin reactions. Hives are typically a sign that something in the beverage isn’t recognized or accepted by a person’s immune system. Nailing down the precise cause can be difficult without the help of an allergist or other medical professional, but some explanations are more common than others.

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Sulfite Allergies

Sulfites, which are a class of chemical preservatives, are one of the most common connections between alcohol and hives. Some sulfites occur naturally, but manufacturers often add them to alcoholic beverages, particularly wines, in order to preserve their shelf life and prevent premature spoilage. True sulfite allergies are one cause, but less serious sensitivities can also lead to skin rashes and breakouts. Most of the time, a person who is sensitive or allergic to these additives will experience respiratory problems such as wheezing and shortness of breath in addition to skin irritation.

Dyes and Additives

Unless an alcoholic beverage is specifically marketed as “pure and natural,” manufacturers may have added dyes, flavoring compounds, and other chemicals, whether to improve the overall taste, lengthen longevity, or simply to make the beverage more appealing in the bottle or glass. People who have allergies to specific colorants or additives may think that they are having a reaction to a particular alcohol when in fact the problem might be with something wholly separate that’s been blended in.

Histamine Breakdown Problems

A histamine sensitivity is another possible connection. Histamines are naturally-occurring nitrogen compounds that typically help the body’s cells fight allergic reactions, but they can trigger inflammatory responses, too. A reaction to alcohol might indicate an excess of histamines in a person’s system, especially if a rash breaks out each time a person has a drink. Histamines are rarely added into alcoholic beverages, but most wines contain them naturally; some red wines actually have very high levels.

Yeast Sensitivities

People who don’t process yeast well — or who can’t process it at all — may also get hives, particularly when they drink things like beer that tend to be heavily yeasted. Someone who has a problem with yeast may also have a problem with sugar, yeast’s food source, which can be problematic where alcohol is concerned since many drinks are quite high in concentrated sugars. This can exacerbate negative reactions, making hives more pronounced or more severe.

Alcohol Intolerance

Some people suffer from alcohol intolerance, a condition that makes them unusually sensitive to the substance to the point where consumption leads to vomiting, diarrhea, or skin rash. Most cases of alcohol intolerance don’t actually produce hives, but a blotchy skin rash that resembles hives is relatively common. People of Asian descent are more likely to experience this phenomenon, but it can happen to almost anyone.

Interaction With Certain Medications

People who mix drugs and drink sometimes develop hives as a side effect of the chemical reaction happening in their bloodstream. Many prescription drugs that interact badly with alcohol or that can cause inflammation when ingested alongside these sorts of beverages often make a note of this on their labels or in their prescription information, but not always. A number of over-the-counter medications for coughs, colds, and headaches also contain compounds that shouldn’t come into contact with alcohol.

As a Complication of Other Conditions

People who suffer from hives from other disorders might see the condition get worse when they drink alcohol. This is particularly true of people with certain autoimmune disorders, blood conditions, or even just highly sensitive skin. Alcohol might also exacerbate hives that a person is already getting from an unrelated source like certain foods, pollen, or insect bites. Hives sometimes also erupt from too much exposure to the sun, bacterial or fungal infection, or stress, and in most cases alcohol — which dehydrates the body and weakens the immune system’s response time — only makes things worse.

Remedies and Cures

Treating the connection between alcohol and hives is usually a matter of diagnosing and solving the underlying problem, be it an allergy, a sensitivity, or an interaction. Healthcare experts typically advise patients to refrain from consuming beer, wine, and liquor as a first step. Patients can often experiment to find certain beverages that will work for them, but it may be the case that alcohol in any form is problematic. In these cases, medical professionals may prescribe antihistamine drugs to relieve itching and swelling, or recommend topical creams for short-term relief.

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Discuss this Article

anon964269
Post 5

I drank one glass of cider yesterday, and broke out in hives on my face, one side more prominent than the other for some reason.

I never drank alcohol before now, so I don't know whether its only cider or just all alcohol, but I don't particularly want to test it and see.

anon336614
Post 4

I suffer from the same thing, especially if I drink hard liquor. I personally feel that the alcohol takes a longer time to leave the system and my body has a low tolerance because sometimes I can still feel the alcohol in my system.

donasmrs
Post 3

My theory about the connection between hives and alcohol is yeast. I've heard that some of us suffer from too much yeast in our body. And since most alcoholic drinks also contain yeast, it probably causes excessive yeast levels which results in a hive breakout.

I'm sure this doesn't apply to everyone but it certainly makes sense for people who don't actually have allergies.

Another cause is probably medications. Some drugs are hard on the liver and so is alcohol. So maybe it has to do with the amount of toxins in the liver?

SteamLouis
Post 2

@SarahGen-- Do you have any other symptoms after drinking aside from hives? Like diarrhea, nausea or vomiting?

I'm allergic to alcohol and not only do I get hives, but I get all these other symptoms too. My entire gastro-intestinal system gets affected from it. If you are like me and experience similar symptoms, you most likely have an allergy to alcohol. I think you should refrain from drinking entirely.

If you don't have these other alcohol allergy symptoms and if you don't get hives every time you drink, you might just be allergic to something in the drink, not the alcohol.

I'm not sure how you would figure this out. I suppose getting tested for food coloring or sulfite allergy would be a good idea.

SarahGen
Post 1

Is there an allergy test I can get to see if I'm allergic to alcohol?

I've just starting consuming alcohol more on a regular basis. I used to not drink at all before. I don't get any adverse side effects when I have small amounts. But any time I have strong alcoholic drinks or when I have too much, I get hives on my back.

It goes away on its own after about a day, I guess when the alcohol leaves my body. I'm guessing I'm allergic to alcohol. But I wonder if I'm allergic to a specific type of alcohol? I'm basically trying to figure out if I can continue to have some alcohol without getting hives.

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