Everything You Need to Know About a Beer Allergy

People with beer allergy symptoms often have a sensitivity to an ingredient in the beverage, for example, wheat, yeast, sulfites, and histamine.

If you break out in a rash, itching, or gastrointestinal issues after consuming beer, alcohol intolerance could be another possible explanation. A food (or, in this case, alcohol) intolerance is different from a food allergy in that intolerance does not involve the immune system. Since alcohol products originate from various sources, you may be intolerant to one kind of alcohol and not another.  

This article explains beer allergy symptoms, causes, risk factors, and diagnosis.

Several people holding beer glasses, clink them together

The Good Brigade / Getty Images

Beer Allergy Symptoms

People with a beer allergy are likely to experience common food allergy symptoms. These include:

More severe symptoms may include shortness of breath, swelling of the throat or tongue, and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis is a rare but severe allergic reaction possible with any allergy. If you notice a rash, shortness of breath, or panic, seek emergency medical attention immediately. 

Causes

Several ingredients in beer may lead to beer allergy symptoms. These include ingredients that commonly cause allergies or sensitivities, like barley, gluten, histamines, sulfites, and yeast.

Gluten

Gluten is the main protein in wheat, rye, and barley. If you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, or celiac disease, you will need to adopt a gluten-free diet. Since the primary ingredient in beer is wheat, that diet includes avoiding beer. 

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is not an allergy or food sensitivity. Instead, it is an autoimmune disease in which your white blood cells attack the small intestine lining when exposed to gluten. 

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity or allergy include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia (low red blood cells)
  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Eczema or rash
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness in extremities

Fortunately, there are many gluten-free beers available on the market. If you know your sensitivity lies with gluten, you might be able to consume these types of beers. 

Histamines

Histamine intolerance may cause a reaction when you drink beer. That’s because beer contains histamine, produced during fermentation (the process whereby yeast converts sugars to alcohol). 

People with histamine intolerance have decreased or inhibited enzymes that break down histamine from food. As a result, they can not prevent histamine from entering the bloodstream and causing symptoms. Symptoms of histamine intolerance include:

  • Migraines
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushed skin
  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Congestion
  • Runny, itchy nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes

Sulfites

Sulfites occur in beer as a result of fermentation. Therefore, if you have a sulfite allergy, you will have symptoms when you drink beer.

Sulfite allergy symptoms include:

  • Asthma symptoms (wheezing, coughing, chest tightness)
  • Allergic rhinitis (nasal congestion, sneezing, itching)
  • Hives

A severe anaphylactic reaction is possible with a sulfite allergy as with other allergies.

Yeast

Brewer’s yeast is made from a fungus. It is in all fermented alcohol, including beer. While rare, yeast allergy can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms of yeast allergy include hives and digestive issues. It can also lead to more serious allergic reactions.

Alcohol Intolerance vs. Allergy

Food allergies and intolerances can be difficult to tell them apart. The difference lies in the body system that responds to food sensitivities and allergies, including beer and its ingredients.

Allergies occur when the body responds to an allergen (in this case, an ingredient in beer). When this happens, your immune system overreacts, identifying the allergen as a foreign substance. It then creates antibodies to fight the allergen as if it were a pathogen. Food allergies impact 4% to 6% of Americans.

On the other hand, food intolerance occurs when your digestive system responds unfavorably to a particular food. With an intolerance or sensitivity, your digestive system may be irritated by certain foods or have trouble digesting it. Food intolerances are far more common than food allergies, affecting up to 20% of people worldwide.

Risk Factors

Alcohol intolerance is most common in people of Asian descent. That is because they are more likely to have a genetic mutation that inhibits enzymes from breaking down alcohol.

In addition, people with asthma or other food or inhalant allergies are more prone to developing allergies of any kind, including alcohol allergies or intolerances. 

Diagnosis

There are several ways to diagnose an alcohol allergy or intolerance. First, a healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and take your medical history and symptoms. In addition, they may try to pin down the cause of your symptoms by:

  • Asking you to keep a food and symptom diary
  • Performing a skin test
  • Ordering blood work

Food Diary

A food and symptom diary can help you identify when your symptoms appear and whether they correlate to certain things. Once you start to notice some patterns, your healthcare provider may have you try an elimination diet to see if your symptoms improve. This eating plan involves removing suspect foods to see if your symptoms improve. Later, you will reintroduce foods to see if they produce symptoms again.

Skin Test

A skin test is the standard diagnostic tool for identifying allergies. A healthcare provider puts tiny amounts of potential allergens on the skin during a skin test.

For example, in the case of a suspected beer allergy, they would use common beer ingredients. If you are allergic to these ingredients, your skin will itch or produce a rash. 

Blood Test

Blood tests are less reliable than skin tests, but they are sometimes used since they are easier to perform and not as time-consuming. They are particularly useful for food allergy testing.

Blood tests look for antibodies to specific allergens in your blood. A large number of antibodies may indicate an allergy.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience symptoms after drinking beer, it’s best to have it evaluated so you can adequately treat your symptoms. Your primary healthcare provider is an excellent place to start. They may be able to diagnose your issue, or they may refer you to an allergist, a healthcare provider that specializes in allergies and asthma. If intolerance is suspected, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a healthcare provider specializing in digestive issues, instead. 

Tips to Manage a Beer Allergy

The only surefire way to avoid beer allergy symptoms is to avoid drinking beer. However, depending on the cause of your symptoms and whether you can pinpoint the ingredient that contributes to your symptoms, you may be able to find alternatives.   

Summary

Beer allergy or intolerance may occur due to a sensitivity to an ingredient in beer. Common allergens in beer include gluten, histamine, sulfites, and yeast. Beer allergies and intolerances are not the same things—allergies are an immune response, whereas intolerances are a digestive response. The best way to manage a beer sensitivity or allergy is to avoid drinking beer or consuming the ingredients causing your trouble.

A Word From Verywell

If you've recently noticed that you can't consume beer without feeling unwell, an allergy or intolerance may be to blame. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step to resolving the problem. With testing, you may even find that you can still enjoy a beer while avoiding an ingredient you are sensitive to.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you suddenly be allergic to beer?

    While most food allergies occur in childhood, they may occur at any time. It is possible for a beer allergy to seemingly appear out of nowhere.

  • Do genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in beer cause beer intolerance?

    There is no evidence to support the theory that GMOs are responsible for beer intolerance. The most prominent ingredient—and therefore, the most significant potential culprit for beer sensitivity—is wheat. And GM wheat is not commercially grown.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Food allergy: overview.

  2. Sapone A, Bai JC, Ciacci C, et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Med. 2012;10:13. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-13

  3. Kovacova-Hanuskova E, Buday T, Gavliakova S, Plevkova J. Histamine, histamine intoxication and intolerance. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2015;43(5):498-506. doi:10.1016/j.aller.2015.05.001

  4. Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. Sulfite sensitivity frequently asked questions (FAQ).

  5. Bansal RA, Tadros S, Bansal AS. Beer, cider, and wine allergy. Case Reports in Immunology. 2017;2017:1-4. doi:10.1155/2017/7958924

  6. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy facts and figures.

  7. Tuck CJ, Biesiekierski JR, Schmid-Grendelmeier P, Pohl D. Food intolerances. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1684. doi:10.3390/nu11071684

  8. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Acute alcohol sensitivity.

  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Allergy blood test.

  10. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Wheat sector at a glance.