Does 'blushing' while drinking wine indicate an alcohol allergy?

Oct 8, 2015

Q: Many people believe they are allergic to wine or alcohol because of a very distinctive side effect they experience when they drink: alcohol "flush," typified by a blushing reaction. But what exactly is this "flush," and does it indicate that the affected person is allergic to alcohol?

A: There are myriad reasons for your face to blush after consuming alcohol. One major reason is an inherited deficiency in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2. The lack of this enzyme means that individuals with this genetic trait are unable to process one of the byproducts created when the body metabolizes alcohol: acetaldehyde. The accumulation of acetaldehyde appears as a red flush or glow on the face. Because this genetic tendency is common in Asian individuals, this alcohol blush is often called "Asian flush" or "Asian glow."

While this enzyme deficiency is not a true allergy, some scientists believe that some people who experience this "blushing" side effect are also experiencing an allergic reaction separate from dehydrogenase deficiency. Some individuals may experience alcohol flush because of allergens that are present in wine or used in processing wine, such as for clarifying the liquid. In addition, rosacea, a skin condition that causes facial flushing and acne-like bumps, can be aggravated by alcohol.

If you have noticed that your skin is sensitive to wine consumption, you can take preventative steps to alleviate this symptom. According to Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil, clinical associate professor of rehabilitation medicine and media spokesperson for NYU Langone Medical Center, "Eating food—especially carbohydrates—at the same time can help you avoid this reaction. Carbohydrates absorb alcohol and prevent it from accumulating in the bloodstream. Sometimes, taking heartburn medications like ranitidine and famotidine an hour before drinking can help."

But before trying any of these methods, talk to your physician about any alcohol-induced reactions you've experienced.—Douglas DeJesus

Have a question about wine and healthy living? Email us.

Health Q & A

You Might Also Like

Is mixing wine and coffee after dinner bad for my heart?

Is mixing wine and coffee after dinner bad for my heart?

Alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant, but that doesn't mean that wine and …

Jan 22, 2020
Are

Are "natural" wines healthier?

Wine Spectator 's expert Dr. Vinny explains what natural wines are, and why some people …

Jan 8, 2020
What type of sparkling wine can I drink if I have diabetes?

What type of sparkling wine can I drink if I have diabetes?

Approximately 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes and wine can raise the blood …

Dec 19, 2019
Can a homemade wine be responsible for unpleasant physical symptoms?

Can a homemade wine be responsible for unpleasant physical symptoms?

Homemade wine, or any part of the winemaking process, may have the potential for unpleasant …

Nov 27, 2019
Which wines can I drink if I suffer from IBS?

Which wines can I drink if I suffer from IBS?

Having Irritable Bowel Syndrome—a common gastrointestinal disorder that causes painful …

Oct 30, 2019
What's the best way to clean mold from a bottle of wine?

What's the best way to clean mold from a bottle of wine?

Cleaning mold off wine bottles may appear to be a daunting task, especially if you have a …

Oct 16, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search