Alcohol consumption can have a direct effect on your asthma, but is it the alcohol that’s causing you to have an asthma attack? If so, what does this mean for you? Learn more about the connection and if you should still drink alcoholic beverages.

How Does Asthma Affect the Body?

Although doctors still don’t fully understand asthma, it’s clear it’s severity falls on a spectrum. Because of this, the way you’re affected by asthma may not be the same way that someone else is affected by asthma.

For some people, asthma is fairly easy to manage. The symptoms may be considered inconvenient. These could include coughing, wheezing, and general shortness of breath a few times during the week or month. Symptoms may get worse when exercising or during any type of physical exertion.

For some people, though, attacks occur more frequently. They can also happen when you’re sleeping. If this sounds familiar, your asthma may make it harder for you to participate in a significant amount of physical activity. You may be able to participate with the help of a medicated inhaler.

Regardless of how severe your asthma is, an attack will appear the same internally. Your airways will have a bronchospasm. This is a tightening around your airways. The mucus in the inflamed airways will also thicken, which can make it difficult to breathe.

What Does Alcohol Have to Do with Asthma?

Although there’s a lot that researchers are still figuring out about the connection between alcohol and asthma, studies show that alcohol can make symptoms worse. It can also trigger a full-blown asthma attack.

Histamines and sulfites, two ingredients in various types of alcohol, tend to be the culprit.

Histamines

Histamines are produced from bacteria and yeast when alcohol ferments. They’re especially prevalent in red wine. Histamines are a known problem for people with allergies. This is especially true for those with asthma.

Sulfites

Sulfites can also cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to them. Up to 10 percent of people who are dealing with asthma are sensitive to these additives. This sensitivity can cause a range of symptoms. Some people may experience wheezing, and other may have an asthma attack. People with more severe asthmatic symptoms should be more cautious when drinking.

Are Any Alcoholic Beverages Safe to Drink?

It’s important to remember that not everyone with asthma experiences the onset or worsening of an attack when drinking alcohol. In one study, about 33 percent of participants said alcohol was associated with an asthmatic event at least two times.

Wine, which contains both sulfites and histamines, was the number one culprit when it came to inducing symptoms. White wine typically contains less histamines than a heartier red wine or a sparkling white. Wines that are 100 percent organic have no added sulfates or are free of sulfates.

The same study also found that out of the subjects who had reactions, 40 percent of those reactions were caused by wine. Overall, red wine was said to be the most common inducer.

Research also shows that wine brought on a relatively quick start to asthma complications. These complications usually start within less than an hour.

There are options available that are low in sulfites and histamines or are completely free of these components. Spirits tend to be better bets than beer, hard ciders, and wines. It’s worth noting that many drink mixers may also contain sulfites because they have preservatives in them.

Read more: Common asthma triggers and how to avoid them »

What Are Some Alternatives?

The rise of niche cocktails has lead to the creation of the mocktail. A mocktail can be just as refreshing and festive as a cocktail, and it comes without potential side effects.

Sulfites are preservatives that can often be found in mixers. When ordering a mocktail, be sure to look for one that has fresh ingredients.

You can also search the kids’ menu, or modify the drinks you used to order on special childhood occasions. How about a grown-up version of a Shirley Temple? Pair fresh cherry and lime juice paired with sparkling soda to create one.

Do you want to make a mocktail at home? That’s easy, too. Combine sparkling water with some fresh-squeezed juice, or muddled fruits and herbs.

What Is the Outlook?

The only way to make sure alcohol isn’t making your breathing more difficult is to avoid it entirely. Although alcohol may not have caused problems for you in the past, there’s still a chance that it may do so in the future. If you do drink alcohol, pay close attention to your breathing and take note of any changes.

Whenever you are drinking alcohol or doing any activity that makes your breathing more difficult, carry your inhaler with you and seek medical attention immediately if you aren’t able to catch your breath.