While we’ve all had one too many the night before, if your hangovers are usually more than a blinding headache – we’re talking stomach cramps, blotchy skin, or a runny, swollen nose – you might be intolerant or even allergic to alcohol.
Whilst true alcohol allergies are rare and tend to be inherited, those who are affected can suffer from severe reactions. But how can you tell the difference between a hangover and an actual allergy? We spoke with Dr Clare Morrison, GP at online pharmacy and doctor at MedExpress to get her advice on the symptoms to look out for…
A Flushed Face
If your face, neck and chest turn bright red and you become warm to the touch when you drink, it’s because your body isn’t wired to metabolise alcohol – a lack of the enzyme ALDH2 makes it difficult for your body to break it down. If this is the case, you may also experience dizziness and feel lightheaded.
Hives indicate a serious intolerance; if you break out, you’re facing anaphylaxis – an allergic reaction that turns your whole body hypersensitive. Hives mean you’re probably allergic to sulfites, a group of compounds naturally produced in alcohol. Be extra careful if you suffer from asthma: ten percent of those with asthma have a bad allergic reaction to alcohol due to sulfites.
An Increased Heart Rate
If a few drinks make your heart rate rocket and you start to feel dizzy, you’re probably suffering from alcohol flush reaction (as above, if you get a flushed face), so you may also experience blotchy patches of redness on your face, neck and chest.
Painful Stomach Cramps
When you drink alcohol, your stomach produces more acid, which irritates the stomach. This is why so many people suffer from stomach pains or sickness after a night of excessive drinking. But if you start to experience extremely painful stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhoea, this could indicate an alcohol allergy.
Swollen Nose & Mouth
If your face gets puffy after a glass or two, you could be allergic to histamine, a compound generated by the bacteria and yeast in alcohol. Make sure you take care, as swelling of the nasal passageways can result in trouble breathing.
Sickness and hangovers usually go hand in hand, but if you start to feel sick immediately after drinking, this could be a sign your body is intolerant to the ingredients found in alcohol. Someone with an alcohol intolerance will start to feel ill almost instantly, compared to those who have just had too much and have to wait it out until morning.
If you think you may have an allergy or intolerance, see your GP for further advice.