I lived the first 20-plus years of my life blissfully unaffected by seasonal allergies, but then last year I woke up one morning with a scratchy throat, headache, watery eyes, and a runny nose. I don’t know why my body decided to pull a Jaimie Lannister and betray me, but I had to learn really quickly how to live life with seasonal allergies. In my extensive research on remedies and preventative measures, I came across the theory that drinking alcohol can potentially make allergies worse. Given that part of my personal brand is “knows her way around a bottle of Pinot Noir,” I decided to tap some experts to sort out fact from fiction.
Alcohol contains histamine, a chemical compound that can trigger inflammation and allergic reactions. These compounds occur naturally in varying amounts in almost all foods, but are more prevalent in aged or fermented foods (like alcohol) since the histamine content in food increases over time. Consuming foods high in histamines on the regular “can worsen all underlying allergies by increasing inflammation in the body,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network. Additionally, alcohol blocks the production of diamine oxidase (DAO), the enzyme in your body that helps break down histamine, says Alana Kessler, RDN and founder of Be Well. She adds that over time, histamine overload—when there’s too much histamine in your body for it to break it down—can cause DAO to become deficient.
Aside from histamines, both experts say that many of alcohol’s natural properties can worsen allergy symptoms. “Alcohol can also cause your blood pressure to go up and down by constricting and dilating blood vessels, which can worsen allergic reactions,” Dr. Parikh says. Alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it increases the amount of water you expel from your body; dehydration makes allergy symptoms worse, Dr. Parikh says.
Specific forms of alcohol are notoriously unfriendly for people with allergies. “Some types of alcohol, such as wine, can contain sulfites which can worsen allergy symptoms,” Dr. Parikh says. Sulfites might sound sketchy, but they’re just natural by-products of wine fermentation. However, some people are sensitive to sulfites and experience symptoms like seasonal allergies when consuming them.
Here’s everything you need to know about the health pros and cons of wine and champagne:
Similarly, Dr. Parikh says alcohol with a high sugar content can make allergy symptoms worse, since sugar is inflammatory. High sugar content isn’t just limited to mixed drinks; wine can also contain more sugar than you may expect. “Sugar is added to wine to make the alcohol content of the wine higher and to make it taste sweet. Sugar is what turns into alcohol during the fermentation process,” Courtney Dunlop, co-founder of Good Clean Wine, says. She says that some mass produced red wines can contain as much as 12 grams of residual sugar—the sugar that doesn’t ferment into alcohol—per liter.
So long story short: Yes, alcohol can make your allergies worse. But that doesn’t mean happy hour (in moderation) is off the table when your allergies are raging. Dr. Parikh says that clear alcohols like vodka have fewer allergens than other options like wine. (Though she says that your best bet is to not drink alcohol, or have it in very small amounts.) If you do choose to drink wine, Kessler says that white and rosé are your best options. “Make sure you are always drinking water as it has the ability to help regulate histamine levels,” Kessler adds. Plus, as we discussed earlier, dehydration can also affect your allergies.
So to play it totally safe when my allergies are acting up, I guess I’ll swap my usual Pinot for one of these anti-inflammatory iced teas. Maybe with a splash of vodka…. After all, knowing that I would be better off not doing something, but finding a way to justify doing it anyway, is also part of my personal brand.