Wine Allergy Guide: Reactions, Tests, Treatments – Surely
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Wine Allergy Guide: Reactions, Tests, Treatments

Wine Allergy Guide: Reactions, Tests, Treatments


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A true wine allergy is pretty rare. It’s more likely that your symptoms are related to an alcohol intolerance or sensitivity to something in that wine. 

If you know you’re one of the few with a real wine allergy, you may be wondering whether there’s anything you can do to have your wine without the nasty, potentially dangerous side effects. Let’s look at wine allergies and intolerances to help you determine your next steps. 

How can I tell if I’m allergic to wine?

Let’s start with the difference between a true wine allergy versus intolerance to alcoholic beverages. Alcohol intolerance is more common and can happen with any alcoholic beverage, including wine. 

An intolerance to wine can mimic some allergy symptoms, but it has more to do with how you digest alcohol. For genetic or metabolic reasons, your body has trouble breaking down ethanol — the alcohol — in wine. 

You may be missing the appropriate amount of enzymes that handle alcohol in the body, or you’re just sensitive to something in that wine. You may tolerate natural or organic wines a little better, but there’s no guarantee if your wine intolerance links back to the ethanol.

Alcohol intolerance reactions include:

  • A red or pink flush in the face, neck, or chest
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cramps, bloating, or diarrhea
  • Headache or migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion and sinus issues
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Asthma symptoms

These symptoms are uncomfortable but not typically life-threatening. A true wine allergy is an immune system response that can quickly become dangerous if not addressed.

How do you tell if you're allergic to wine? You can tell if you’re allergic to wine if any amount of wine causes an immediate reaction and allergy symptoms.

Wine allergy symptoms include:

  • Problems breathing
  • Rhinitis (nasal congestion, sneezing, or runny nose)
  • Itchy mouth and throat
  • Rash or hives
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fatigue
  • Swelling around the mouth and throat
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, can cause the body to go into anaphylactic shock. Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you’re with experiences symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness. 

Can you have an allergic reaction to wine if you've had it before? You can have an allergic reaction to wine if you’ve had it before. The same is true of an alcohol allergy. 

It’s more likely that your body is reacting to additives or preservatives in the wine rather than the wine itself, and not every winemaking process is the same.

Specific Allergens in Wine

For most people who have adverse reactions after drinking a glass of wine, it isn’t the alcohol itself causing problems. 

There are all kinds of potential allergens in wine depending on that winemaker’s fermentation process, the steps they take to preserve their wine, or the wine’s base ingredients. These allergens act just like food allergies. Any exposure to them can cause allergy symptoms.

Potential allergens in wine include:

  • Grapes: If you’re allergic to wine, it may be thanks to the grapes themselves. Studies show that the lipid transfer protein (LTP) in grapes is behind most allergic reactions. If that’s the case for you, you’re likely allergic to other fruits and nuts, as well.
  • Fining agents: Some winemakers use animal proteins from fish or dairy to help clarify their wines. If you’re allergic to either, this one is easier to avoid with vegan wines. Remember that vegan wines may use gluten or other plant proteins as a replacement.
  • Yeast: Yeast is an integral part of fermentation as the grape sugar is turned into alcohol. If you have a yeast allergy, you may react to trace amounts of yeast in the finished product. 
  • Sulfites: Sulfites are naturally-occurring compounds that act as preservatives in wine. A true allergy to sulfites in wine is rare, and there are no wines that are entirely sulfite-free. If you’re sensitive but not allergic, look for wines without added sulfites.

What is the difference between a reaction to sulfites in wine and an allergic reaction to wine? There is little difference between a reaction to sulfites in wine and an allergic reaction to wine. A sulfite sensitivity can look just like allergies.

People with asthma are more likely to have a sulfite sensitivity after wine consumption. Those with more severe sulfite sensitivities may experience symptoms like breathing problems and skin reactions.

Is there a type of wine that’s better than others?

In cases of a true wine allergy, if you have symptoms with one type of wine, you will probably feel the effects after another. This is especially true if you’re allergic to grapes. You just can’t have wine without grapes.

Some wine drinkers allergic to specific proteins or additives in wine have found brands that keep them feeling their best, like a gluten-free wine free of even trace amounts of gluten. Others find their symptoms worse when they drink red wine over white or sparkling varietals. 

Red wine’s resveratrol content is linked to health benefits like improved heart health, but it can also cause worse wine headaches and allergy-like symptoms. It could be the higher amount of tannins in some red wines or the histamines in most reds. 

Histamine intolerance can cause allergy symptoms like hives, nausea, headaches, and sinus issues. It happens when you consume too many histamine-rich foods, like red wine, aged cheese, and citrus.

It’s true. Some can’t have too much wine OR cheese in their diet without developing symptoms.  

Reactions to Other Drinks and Foods

If you know you have an allergy to wine, you may react to other foods and drinks. If the yeast in wine causes you grief, you probably won’t be able to drink beer or hard cider, either. 

If you have a grape allergy, you’ve probably been through allergy testing for the long list of foods to avoid, like tree nuts, asparagus, figs, and dates. Most in this camp are sensitive to pollen, too. 

Anyone with a sulfite sensitivity or true sulfite allergy should avoid vinegar, eggs, tea, and dried fruits. Many baked goods include some level of sulfites, too. 

Any allergy turns you into an ingredient detective, but a diagnosis is key to understanding how to manage your symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

Since some potential allergens are specific to wine, you may not know you have them without allergy testing. A pinprick test or blood test with an allergist can confirm your particular allergies and help you avoid those allergens in what you eat and drink.

If you’re new to drinking wine and experience any symptoms after, see your doctor to discuss your options. You may just have alcohol intolerance. In that case, it’s up to you whether you want to ditch booze or manage symptoms after drinking.

As we already mentioned, get medical help immediately if you experience any symptoms of anaphylaxis after drinking wine. That’s a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction.

Treatments

Antihistamines can help with minor reactions such as stuffy noses or itchiness after drinking wine. 

There’s been some success with oral immunotherapy with wine allergies related to grapes and grape skins, but that research is pretty limited.

The only way to avoid the side effects of an alcohol intolerance or an alcohol allergy is to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

The Healthiest Wine is Non-Alcoholic Wine

The healthiest wine will always be dealcoholized wine. If you have an allergy to wine, though, be sure to consult your doctor before picking up a bottle of Surely non-alcoholic wine.

Love a crisp white wine? Try our non-alcoholic sauvignon blanc. Feeling like some fizz? Use our non-alcoholic sparkling white in your spritzers without guilt.

Sources

  1. Severe immediate allergic reactions to grapes: part of a lipid transfer protein-associated clinical syndrome
  2. Allergenic Proteins in Enology: A Review on Technological Applications and Safety Aspects
  3. Beer, Cider, and Wine Allergy
  4. Detection of some safe plant-derived foods for LTP-allergic patients
  5. Wine Allergy in a Wine-Growing District: Tolerance Induction in a Patient With Allergy to Grape Lipid-Transfer Protein

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