Symptoms, causes, what to do and more
People with beer allergy symptoms are often sensitive to an ingredient in the drink, such as wheat, yeast, sulphites and histamine.
If you experience skin rashes, itching, or gastrointestinal issues after drinking beer, alcohol intolerance could be another possible explanation. A food (or, in this case, alcohol) intolerance is different from a food allergy in that the intolerance does not involve the immune system. Since alcohol products come from a variety of sources, you may be intolerant to one type of alcohol and not another.
This article explains the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and diagnosis of beer allergy.
Beer allergy symptoms
People with beer allergies are likely to experience common food allergy symptoms. These include:
More serious symptoms may include shortness of breath, swelling of the throat or tongue, and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis is a rare but serious allergic reaction possible with any allergy. If you notice a rash, shortness of breath, or panic, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Several ingredients in beer can lead to beer allergy symptoms. These include ingredients that commonly cause allergies or sensitivities, such as barley, gluten, histamines, sulphites and yeast.
Gluten is the main protein in wheat, rye and barley. If you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, or celiac disease, you will need to adopt a gluten-free diet. Since the main ingredient in beer is wheat, this diet includes avoiding beer.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is not a food allergy or sensitivity. Instead, it’s an autoimmune disease in which your white blood cells attack the lining of the small intestine when exposed to gluten.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity or allergy include:
- Abdominal pain
- Anemia (low number of red blood cells)
- brain fog
- Eczema or rash
- Articular pain
- Numbness of extremities
Fortunately, there are many gluten-free beers available on the market. If you know your sensitivity is related to gluten, you may be able to consume these types of beers.
Histamine intolerance can cause a reaction when you drink beer. This is because beer contains histamine, produced during fermentation (the process by which yeast converts sugars into alcohol).
People with histamine intolerance have reduced or inhibited enzymes that break down histamine from foods. As a result, they cannot prevent histamine from entering the bloodstream and causing symptoms. Symptoms of histamine intolerance include:
- Red skin
- Runny and itchy nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
Sulfites are present in beer as a result of fermentation. Therefore, if you are allergic to sulfites, you will have symptoms when you drink beer.
Sulfite allergy symptoms include:
- Asthma symptoms (wheezing, coughing, chest tightness)
- allergic rhinitis (nasal congestion, sneezing, itching)
A severe anaphylactic reaction is possible with a sulphite allergy as with other allergies.
Brewer’s yeast is made from a fungus. It is found in all fermented alcohols, including beer. Although rare, yeast allergy can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms of yeast allergy include hives and digestive issues. It can also lead to more serious allergic reactions.
Alcohol Intolerance vs Allergy
Food allergies and intolerances can be difficult to tell apart. The difference is in the body system that reacts to food sensitivities and allergies, including beer and its ingredients.
Allergies occur when the body reacts to an allergen (in this case, an ingredient in beer). When this happens, your immune system overreacts, identifying the allergen as a foreign substance. It then creates antibodies to fight the allergen as if it were a pathogen. Food allergies affect 4-6% of Americans.
On the other hand, food intolerance occurs when your digestive system reacts unfavorably to a particular food. With an intolerance or sensitivity, your digestive system may be irritated by certain foods or have trouble digesting them. Food intolerances are far more common than food allergies, affecting up to 20% of people worldwide.
Alcohol intolerance is more common in people of Asian descent. This is because they are more likely to have a genetic mutation that prevents enzymes from breaking down alcohol.
Additionally, people with asthma or other food or inhalant allergies are more likely to develop allergies of all kinds, including alcohol allergies or intolerances.
There are several ways to diagnose an allergy or intolerance to alcohol. First, a health care provider will perform a physical exam and take your medical history and symptoms. Additionally, they may try to determine the cause of your symptoms by:
- Ask you to keep a food and symptom diary
- Performing a skin test
- Order blood tests
A food and symptom diary can help you identify when your symptoms appear and if they correlate with certain things. Once you start noticing certain patterns, your healthcare provider may have you try an elimination diet to see if your symptoms improve. This eating plan involves eliminating suspect foods to see if your symptoms improve. Later, you will reintroduce foods to see if they produce symptoms again.
A skin test is the standard diagnostic tool for identifying allergies. A healthcare professional places small amounts of potential allergens on the skin during a patch test.
For example, in the case of a suspected beer allergy, they would use common beer ingredients. If you are allergic to these ingredients, your skin will itch or produce a rash.
Blood tests are less reliable than skin tests, but they are sometimes used because they are easier to perform and less time consuming. They are particularly useful for food allergy testing.
Blood tests look for antibodies to specific allergens in your blood. A large number of antibodies can indicate an allergy.
When to See a Health Care Provider
If you experience symptoms after drinking beer, it is best to have it evaluated so that you can properly treat your symptoms. Your primary health care provider is a great place to start. They may be able to diagnose your problem or refer you to an allergist, a healthcare professional who specializes in allergies and asthma. If an intolerance is suspected, they can refer you to a gastroenterologista healthcare professional who specializes in digestive issues.
Tips for managing a beer allergy
The only surefire way to avoid beer allergy symptoms is to avoid drinking beer. However, depending on the cause of your symptoms and if you can identify the ingredient that is contributing to your symptoms, you may be able to find alternatives.
A beer allergy or intolerance can occur due to sensitivity to an ingredient in beer. Common allergens in beer include gluten, histamine, sulphites and yeast. Beer allergies and intolerances are not the same thing – allergies are an immune response, while intolerances are a digestive response. The best way to manage a beer sensitivity or allergy is to avoid drinking beer or consuming the ingredients that are causing your problems.
A word from Verywell
If you’ve recently noticed that you can’t drink beer without feeling bad, an allergy or intolerance may be to blame. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step to solving the problem. With testing, you might even find that you can still enjoy a beer while avoiding an ingredient you’re sensitive to.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you suddenly be allergic to beer?
Although most food allergies occur during childhood, they can strike at any time. It’s possible for a beer allergy to appear out of nowhere.
Do genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in beer cause beer intolerance?
There is no evidence to support the theory that GMOs are responsible for beer intolerance. The most important ingredient – and therefore the most important potential culprit of beer sensitivity – is wheat. And GM wheat is not grown commercially.