Could You Be Allergic To Alcohol?

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
What's your hangover type? Do you get a little headache the next day? Are you more of a barf-on-the-sidewalk-the-morning-after person? Or do you get a stuffy nose, red skin, and diarrhoea while you're still at the bar? If that last one sounds like you, that could be a sign of something more serious than just a hangover, like an alcohol allergy or intolerance.
Everyone is different when it comes to how much they can drink before feeling sick, but people with alcohol intolerance get ferocious symptoms immediately after drinking alcohol, no matter how much they drink, and they feel more acute than a classic hangover. Alcohol intolerance isn't an allergy per se (those are pretty uncommon), but "intolerance" refers to uncomfortable feelings right after drinking alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic. A 2006 study suggests that alcohol intolerance could be caused by a genetic disorder that makes it harder for your body to break down alcohol in a drink.
Exactly how many people have alcohol intolerance can be tricky to pinpoint, because some of the symptoms can be confused for a hangover. In a 2007 study of 6,000 people, about 14% of participants reported having some reaction to alcohol and said that they felt it in their respiratory tract or on their skin. Alcohol intolerance is usually genetic, and is more common in people of East Asian descent, according to a 2009 study. The only real way to treat alcohol intolerance is to stop drinking alcohol; and if you are allergic to something in alcohol, you might be able to take an antihistamine drug before drinking, or find a drink that doesn't include the thing that causes a reaction (but, of course, talk to your doctor first).
It's possible that people experience painful symptoms after drinking because specific ingredients in alcohol — like grains or sulphites — cause an allergic reaction, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you're concerned about how drinking alcohol makes your body feel, you should keep track of your symptoms and talk to your doctor. They'll probably do a skin prick test to determine if you're allergic to anything in alcoholic drinks, or they might take a blood test to measure your immune system response, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Here are some symptoms that could be a sign of alcohol intolerance or an alcohol allergy.