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Wine is a very popular alcoholic beverage that may have health benefits when consumed in moderation. However, have you ever felt allergy-like symptoms after drinking wine? Can you actually be allergic to wine?

Although rare, it’s indeed possible to have an allergic reaction to wine.

Continue reading to learn more about wine allergies, the potential allergens in wine, and how to know if you’re allergic to them.

The symptoms of wine or other alcohol allergies can be similar to those of other food allergies. Some of the reported symptoms include:

  • runny nose or nasal congestion
  • a burning or itching sensation on the lips, mouth, or throat
  • rash or hives, which may be itchy
  • digestive upset, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of the lips, mouth, or throat

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe type of allergic reaction and is a medical emergency. It may occur after eating or drinking grape products, including wine, raisins, and fresh grapes.

A 2005 study identified a specific protein found in grapes as the allergen.

Seek immediate medical attention

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing anaphylaxis, seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • rash or hives, which may be itchy
  • difficulty breathing, which can include wheezing or coughing
  • swelling of the throat
  • quick heartbeat
  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • digestive upset, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • a feeling of doom
  • feeling light-headed or passing out

Adverse food reactions: Allergy versus intolerance

It’s important to distinguish between a wine allergy and alcohol intolerance.

Allergies are an abnormal immune response to an ingredient in wine. Some people, especially those with asthma, may also have a sulfite sensitivity, which is an immune reaction. A sulfite sensitivity is typically classified as an allergy and may result in mild to severe symptoms.

Intolerance is a condition where your body can’t break down alcohol effectively, which may be genetic or develop over time.

Intolerance can cause symptoms that are very similar to allergies, and the two can often be mistaken. Intolerance symptoms can include:

  • flushed skin
  • runny nose or nasal congestion
  • headache or migraine
  • nausea or vomiting
  • quick heartbeat
  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • worsening of asthma

There are several potential allergens that can be found in wine. They include:

  • grapes, including specific proteins found in them
  • ethanol, the specific type of alcohol that’s present in wine
  • yeast, which ferments the sugars from the grapes into ethanol
  • sulfites, which can be produced naturally in wine or added by winemakers
  • fining agents, which are added during production and can include proteins derived from milk, eggs, and fish

Does the type of wine matter?

Generally speaking, most wines contain all of the potential allergens discussed above. However, it appears as if red wine causes the most symptoms.

One 2005 study surveyed people who experience upper airway symptoms in response to alcohol. Reported symptoms included nasal congestion and sneezing.

Investigators found that 83 percent of respondents reported that their symptoms developed after consumption of red wine. White wine was the next most prevalent, with 31 percent reporting it as a symptom trigger.

Another more recent study assessed allergy and allergy-like symptoms following wine consumption. They found that more people reported symptoms following the drinking of red wine than of white wine.

Why the bias toward red wine? While the answer to this is still unclear, it may have something to do with the fact that red wine contains more sulfites and is fermented with the grape skin still on, while white wine is not.

One of the confirmed grape allergens is located in the grape skin.

Red wine is fermented with the grape skin still on, white wine is not.

Reactions to wine could also depend on the specific type of grape used in the wine. For example, one publication reports the occurrence of negative reactions in those with hypertension after consumption of wine containing Merlot grapes.

If you’ve had reactions to wine, could you also have reactions to other things? Are some allergens shared between wine and other foods or products? We’ll discuss this in more detail below.

Beer

Beer does share some potential allergens with wine, such as ethanol, sulfites, and yeast. Therefore, it’s possible to have an allergy to both beer and wine.

In fact, a 2017 case study documented an individual who had an allergic reaction after consuming products like beer, wine, cider, and Champagne. After allergy testing, it was confirmed that they had an allergy to yeast.

Fining agents

Fining agents used in wine can contain proteins derived from eggs, milk, and fish. If you have an allergy to these things, should you be worried?

Fining agents are supposed to be removed from wine during the winemaking process. This is accomplished via procedures like filtration.

One 2014 study assessed if fining agents could be detected in red and white wines following these removal procedures. The assays used couldn’t detect the presence of fining agents in the wines tested. Another 2014 study found similar results.

A 2011 study tested for reactivity in people. Although no fining agents were detected in the wines, a very small skin reaction was observed in people with a milk, egg, or fish allergy. Due to the small scale of the response, the researchers concluded fining agents pose a very low risk.

Other foods

People with an allergy to grapes or grape products may also have reactions to other foods.

A 2006 study observed that people with grape allergies might also be allergic to the following foods, in order of prevalence:

Insect venom

Sometimes, insects, such as bees and wasps, can fall into wine and be crushed with the grapes. In fact, one study of five individuals found that a reaction was observed after drinking newly processed wine or grape juice.

Further study found that the reaction was due to insect venom allergens present in the wine. No reaction was observed in aged wine, however.

If you’ve experienced an allergic reaction after drinking wine, how do you know which allergen you’re allergic to? There are allergy tests that can help with this.

Skin tests

Skin tests involve a small bit of allergen being pricked or injected under your skin. Reactions of redness or swelling will often occur quickly if you’re allergic to the allergen.

Blood tests

Blood testing involves taking a sample of blood. The blood will then be sent to a laboratory to test for allergy-related antibodies called IgE antibodies. Blood testing can test for total levels of IgE or IgE levels against a specific allergen.

It’s important to remember that very specific allergens, such as individual grape proteins, may not be available as reagents for allergy tests. Your doctor may instead test more general allergens, like red wine, white wine, yeast, or sulfites.

Antihistamines

Treating a minor reaction to wine may involve taking oral antihistamines. These can either be acquired over the counter or through a prescription from your doctor.

Epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen)

Because wine allergies and a sulfite sensitivity can potentially be severe, you may want to consider carrying an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen). This emergency medication can be used to treat severe allergic reactions while you wait for help to arrive.

Oral immunotherapy

You may have heard that some people with food allergies are slowly given increasing amounts of allergen orally in order to promote tolerance. This is called oral immunotherapy.

While there isn’t much research to support this method for treating wine allergies, it was tested in a person with a very severe grape and wine allergy. Oral tolerance was achieved using increasing doses of grapes.

If you’re allergic to wine, the best way to prevent having an allergic reaction to wine is to avoid drinking it.

If you know the component in wine that you’re allergic to, you may be able to avoid it. For example, this may be possible if you have a reaction to a specific type of wine or grape.

Sometimes, careful label reading can also help inform you. For example, wine labels are required to inform you if the wine contains sulfites.

However, caution is advised when drinking wine, as adverse reactions can be severe. It may be best to avoid wine — and any other alcoholic beverages you’re allergic to — completely.

It’s always a good idea to see a doctor if you experience allergy symptoms shortly after drinking wine. These can include such things as:

  • runny nose or nasal congestion
  • itching or burning around the lips, mouth, and throat
  • rash or hives
  • digestive upset, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • wheezing or an increase in asthma symptoms

Your doctor can work with you to help determine if your symptoms are caused by an allergy or an intolerance to wine. They may also refer you to an allergist.

Remember that anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you or someone else is experiencing the symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency treatment.

Although allergies to wine and other types of alcohol are rare, they’re possible. Wine contains a variety of allergens, including grapes, yeast, and ethanol.

If you have a wine allergy, you may experience symptoms such as a rash, nasal congestion, wheezing, or a tingling sensation around your mouth and throat. In some cases, reactions can be very severe, leading to anaphylaxis.

If you experience allergy-like symptoms in response to drinking wine, you should see your doctor. They can help you figure out what may be causing the reaction.