Can You Be Allergic to Wine?

Wine may be associated with health benefits like the prevention of chronic diseases. However, drinking wine can also be accompanied by some unpleasant side effects. Alcohol can have negative impacts on the brain, heart, liver, and stomach.

In some people, intolerance or allergy to alcohol can also result in uncomfortable or even dangerous symptoms. This article discusses allergies to alcohol, symptoms, triggers, tests, and treatment options.

Red wine

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Allergy vs. Intolerance

Although an intolerance may cause similar symptoms to allergies, intolerance is not the same as an allergy.

People with an intolerance to a food or beverage may experience symptoms that are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. Those who have an allergy, however, could have serious reactions if they consume something they are allergic to.

While an intolerance can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, with an allergy, there is a chance anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction, can occur. Intolerances do not cause anaphylaxis.

An intolerance to something like food or drink often is experienced in the digestive system. An intolerance may occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Sensitivity to certain food additives
  • Reactions to chemicals that occur naturally in some foods and drinks

If people with a food intolerance eat or drink something they are intolerant to, they may experience some uncomfortable symptoms. These include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Gas

An allergy involves the immune system. When the immune system views something (an allergen) as a threat, it attempts to defend the body. When it does this, it produces antibodies known as immunoglobin E (IgE). These antibodies then work with cells to cause an allergic reaction.

Unlike the symptoms of intolerance, an allergic reaction can be serious and even life-threatening. An allergic reaction may cause a variety of symptoms involving the skin, the gastrointestinal system, and the respiratory system.

It can also lead to anaphylaxis, which is an emergency.

Symptoms of Wine Allergy

While a sensitivity to alcohol is thought to impact roughly 10% of the population, an allergy to alcohol is believed to be less common.

In those with a serious wine allergy, a single milliliter of alcohol can trigger a reaction.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Stomach cramps
  • Severe rash
  • Collapse

Mild and Moderate Reactions

Those with an allergy to alcohol may experience a range of symptoms associated with food allergies.

These include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Wheezing
  • Tingling sensation in the mouth
  • Itchy rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in the face or other parts of the body
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Feeling light-headed

When to Seek Medical Attention

In some cases, an allergic reaction can be severe and lead to anaphylaxis. This is considered a medical emergency.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis can appear suddenly and will quickly get worse. They may include:

  • A swollen tongue
  • Collapse
  • Difficulties with speaking and swallowing
  • Breathing problems
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling faint

In the event of anaphylaxis, call an ambulance or go to the emergency room immediately.

Allergens in Wine

There are numerous potential allergens found in wine. These include proteins, enzymes, dairy products, molds, and ingredients used in the production of wine.

Sulfites, histamines, and tannins are among some of the substances believed to contribute to a wine intolerance.

Sulfites

Sulfites are an ingredient used to make beverages and foods last longer. They are found in a number of products, including wine and beer. The reason some people have an intolerance to sulfites is unknown, but both genetics and the environment could be contributing factors.

Histamines

A reaction to histamine can occur after drinking red wine. Histamine is made during the production process of fermentation. It is one of the main causes of intolerance to wine.

Tannins

Tannins are a compound derived from the grapes used to produce wine. Tannins contribute to the flavor and color of wine and can cause intolerance. Tannins in red wine have also been associated with migraines.

Diagnosis and Allergy Tests

To make a diagnosis of allergy, a healthcare provider will first take a medical history and do a physical exam. It is likely they will then order allergy tests.

A variety of tests are used to diagnose allergies. These include:

  • Skin prick test: This is one of the most common allergy tests. During this test, a small amount of the suspected allergen is placed on the skin. The skin is then lightly pricked so the allergen can move under the skin. The skin is then examined for a reaction like redness or a rash. However, this test does have a high false-positive rate.
  • Blood test: A blood test for allergies involves taking a sample of blood to measure the level of antibodies in the blood. However, this test does have a high false-positive rate.
  • Challenge tests: This test is performed under medical supervision and involves ingesting a suspected allergen and waiting to see if there is a reaction.

Treatment and Prevention

If you suspect you have an allergy to wine, make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Only a healthcare provider can formally diagnose allergies.

Those who have an allergy or intolerance to wine should follow the directions of their healthcare provider and may be asked to refrain from drinking red wine. In some cases, a healthcare provider may identify an allergy to a specific ingredient or compound in wine, like grapes.

It is possible those with an intolerance to wine may also have an intolerance to other things. For example, if a person is found to be intolerant to the sulfites found in wine, they may also need to avoid other foods that contain sulfites like:

  • Beer
  • Dried fruit
  • Some types of frozen or preserved shrimp
  • Canned fruit or vegetables
  • Deli meats
  • Sausages

Summary

An allergy to wine is believed to be rare, though an intolerance to wine that impacts roughly 10% of people. Those with an intolerance to wine may react to certain ingredients found in wine, including histamines, sulfites, and tannins. They may experience a variety of symptoms on the skin, in the respiratory system, and in the digestive system.

Allergy testing is the only way to formally diagnose allergies. Those who are found to have an allergy to a specific ingredient in wine like grapes may need to avoid other foods containing those ingredients.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with allergies can be challenging. If you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance to wine, consider making an appointment with a healthcare provider. They will be able to refer you to an allergist for testing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you be intolerant to red wine but not white wine?

    Some people may find they have a reaction to red wine rather than white wine.

    This could be due to an intolerance to histamine.

    Red wine has higher levels of histamine than white wine.

  • What foods or beverages are high in tannins?

    Tannins are found in a number of commonly consumed foods and beverages, including some grains, chocolate, cocoa, fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, and wine.

  • Which alcoholic drinks have the most histamines?

    Histamine can be found in a number of alcoholic drinks, such as white wine, red wine, and beer.

    Some alcoholic drinks have higher levels of histamine than others. Red wine has more histamine than white wine and beer.

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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.
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