When your hangover may be something more

“Alcohol intolerance is a common problem, but many people don’t initially know they’re allergic to alcohol because the symptoms are similar to those of a hangover,” says Dr. Jacqueline Ivey-Brown, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

Common food allergies include items like peanuts, milk, eggs and shellfish, but what about alcohol?

“Most people will experience these symptoms after a couple of drinks or after a few hours of drinking,” says Dr. Ivey-Brown. “However, some might experience these symptoms after only a few sips of alcohol.”

According to Dr. Ivey-Brown, symptoms of alcohol intolerance include:

  • Flushed face
  • Itchy bumps or hives
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Heavy breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate

Dr. Ivey-Brown explains that alcohol intolerance can be inherited, but more frequently is a result of your body being unable to break down the toxins found in alcohol because of an enzyme deficiency.

Furthermore, alcohol often contains ingredients such as wheat or grain, yeast, sulfites and other items that can cause allergic reactions. In this case, you wouldn’t be considered alcohol intolerant, but it would be important to know which ingredients to look out for when consuming specific types of alcohol.

“If you think you’re suffering from alcohol intolerance, you should visit your primary care physician, who can help pinpoint if this may be the case,” says Dr. Ivey-Brown.

However, if it turns out you are alcohol intolerant, you might be surprised that there’s very little you can do.

“For minor alcohol intolerance or a small reaction, over-the-counter prescriptions may be available, but if you have severe reactions to alcohol, then the only solution, like many food allergies, is to avoid it,” says Dr. Ivey-Brown.

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