Alcohol, smoking can trigger reactions or make allergies worse, allergists say
Newswise — BOSTON— While the health benefits of drinking wine in moderation continue to make news, for some with allergies even a glass a day may be difficult to swallow. At the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Boston, Nov. 3-8, allergists share the latest buzz on allergies to alcohol and tobacco.
“Although it’s rare, allergies to alcohol can cause symptoms such as red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, upset stomach and difficulty breathing,” said allergist Sami Bahna, MD, ACAAI past president, and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Louisiana State University Medical School in Shreveport. “In most cases, simply understanding what triggers the allergic reaction will help the person find an alternative drink to enjoy.”
Reactions can be triggered by naturally occurring ingredients in beer and wine, including barley, ethanol, grapes, histamine, hops, malt, oats, tryptamine, tyramine, wheat, and yeast. Other potential allergens may be introduced to beer and wine during processing, including egg whites, which are sometimes used as a filtering agent, and sulfites, which occur naturally in wine but also may be added as a preservative.
Allergic reactions to alcohol can produce minor symptoms such as rash, or life-threatening reactions including asthma attacks and anaphylaxis. In his presentation, Dr. Bahna discusses case studies of patients who experience symptoms of asthma and anaphylaxis after drinking wine or beer. He points out that wine, particularly red wine, contains chemicals called tyramines that commonly cause headache.
“Individuals can be allergic to the alcohol itself or an added ingredient, but even when people are not allergic, they may not realize that alcohol can worsen existing allergy symptoms, particularly food allergies,” Dr. Bahna added.
Similar to diagnosing a food allergy, Dr. Bahna explains, once an allergist helps someone pinpoint which allergens are causing a reaction, simply avoiding the beverage is the best solution.
Dr. Bahna also shared research related to tobacco smoke and its effect on allergic disease. While it may seem like common sense that tobacco smoke as a strong irritant worsens asthma, it can also affect seasonal allergy sufferers. Studies show that exposure to smoke can enhance sensitivity to airborne substances like pollen and mold spores, which wreak havoc during spring and fall allergy seasons each year.
“The health risks of tobacco smoke are widespread whether your exposure is a result of active smoking, passive exposure through second-hand smoke, or indirect exposure from pregnant mother to her unborn child,” said Dr. Bahna. “People with allergies and asthma should be especially careful to avoid any exposure to tobacco smoke.”
Studies show that tobacco smoke:
• enhances sensitivity to airborne substances like pollen or spores• increases bronchial sensitivity to specific irritants• paves the way to the development of asthma• worsens asthma• increases the risk of developing COPD • increases the risk of emphysema and lung cancer. Allergists have the training and expertise to treat more than just the allergy symptoms. Those who suspect they have reactions to alcohol, food, or tobacco should be evaluated by an allergist—a doctor who is an expert in diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma. To learn about allergies and asthma, take a free relief self-test or find an allergist near you visit www.AllergyAndAsthmaRelief.org.
About ACAAIThe ACAAI is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research.
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The ACAAI Press Room is located in Room 204 at the Hynes Convention Center, November 4 - 7, 2011; phone 617-954-2665, [email protected].
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ACAAI 2011 Annual Scientific Meeting