What's up with my reaction to alcohol?
April 11, 2009 6:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a really wierd reaction to alcohol. What is it and can I prevent it without giving up drinking forever? (Details inside!)

Whenever I drink I get a vicious edema (swelling) in my eyelids that lasts for 24-48 hours and my nose runs like a faucet for a several hours. The symptoms begin within a few hours of drinking. I don't have any other symptoms - no vision or breathing problems, other swelling, pain, vomiting, or itching except for my eyes.
It started when I was about 28 (2 years ago) with a wheat beer. At that point it was just one eyelid. I tried another beer and it happened again so I assumed it was an allergy to hops or barley or something. I tried several different brands and types of beers but the reaction always occurred with varying levels of severity, so I gave it up. About a year ago I had a glass of red wine and nothing happened! Then, a couple of weeks later I had another glass of wine and the eyelid swelling was worse than ever. I did a little research and decided it might be a sulfite allergy and about a month ago I decided to try liquor. I even called the good folks at Bacardi to make sure their rum was sulfite free. So I tried one whiskey drink and nothing happened. A few days later I had a rum drink and, again, nothing happened. I waited a few more days and then had 1 whiskey drink and 2 rum drinks and the swelling came back as badly as ever.
I don't have any significant allergies other than mild hay fever.
So what in the world could this be? Could it possibly be prevented?
posted by Quizicalcoatl to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here's a case report of a dude who would get huge eyelid swelling from alcohol. No other underlying condition was found. Abstinence from alcohol was the treatment, and the eyelid swelling didn't come back.
posted by Justinian at 6:09 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you doing/eating/drinking anything else when this happens?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:10 PM on April 11, 2009

Best answer: Following up on Justinian's link, here's the pdf of that report.
posted by zippy at 6:17 PM on April 11, 2009

And on looking at that PDF, some not-safe-for-work or -mealtime photos.
posted by zippy at 6:18 PM on April 11, 2009

What ethnicity are you?
posted by rhizome at 6:23 PM on April 11, 2009

Sounds like a manifestation of Alcohol Flush Reaction.
posted by Benjy at 7:01 PM on April 11, 2009

I think you need to do a whole lot more research. Obviously it's an allergic reaction to something but (IANonly Not a doctor but nothing more than a dedicated drinker) it seems to me that I've never heard about a pure alcohol allergy, or if I have, it's been way more serious than swollen eyes. Perhaps you need to be drinking really clear drinks. Wheat is a big, well known allergen, so is gluten. A lot of alcohol has gluten in it. Have you tried vodka? Or really pure and expensive gin? Try the clear liquors and then see what happens. There's lots of different kinds of vodka these days, including some made from grapes. And also, try cheap American beers. I've found over the years that they trigger less miserable hangovers and effects than almost anything else.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:09 PM on April 11, 2009

Response by poster: The case report is really interesting. Mine isn't as severe, but that may just be because I'm not a 43 year old alcoholic.
More background:
I've never been a heavy drinker.
I'm not asian and this isn't really anything like Alcohol Flush Reaction.
Pot's not an option I'm interested in.
There doesn't seem to be any other commonality that I'm doing/eating/drinking beyond the alcohol itself.
Sorry I misspelled weird in the opening question.
Thanks to all for the advice!
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:36 PM on April 11, 2009

Have you tried taking a benadryl or other allergy pill before you drink? I know that beer and some red wines are high in histamines and can make allergies worse. If this tends to happen during your allergy season, that could be the culprit.
posted by idiotfactory at 8:10 PM on April 11, 2009

Please don't combine an antihistamine with alcohol. That's not a good idea.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:40 PM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

I even called the good folks at Bacardi to make sure their rum was sulfite free. So I tried one whiskey drink and nothing happened.

Bacardi makes whiskey? Or are you referring to cocktails?

The first thing that springs to mind is an allergy to something in corn (maize). Lots of low-cost liquors (and wines, maybe?) are supplemented with corn-derived ethanol.

The eyelid swelling thing isn't a 'classic symptom' but more of an accompanying symptom - but different immune systems are... different. Other than an allergic reaction, have you had your (normal) blood pressure tested?
posted by porpoise at 8:56 PM on April 11, 2009

Are you on any medications? Because some medications--even ones you wouldn't expect--can have bizarre interactions with alcohol.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:09 PM on April 11, 2009

Same brands every time?

I'm thinking something that leaches from some kind of filtration media, or something like that. If you know anyone who does home brewing, see if you can't get a hold of some beer that was not filtered, not pasteurized, and contains no rice or corn based ingredients. See if that gets any response.

I can think of all kinds of cool things you could try that would give you an answer in a hurry with out a lot of itching and swelling. Unfortunately, it would involved drawing some blood, spinning it down, and having some biotin labeled Rabbit anti-human IgG in your refrigerator, which I'm guessing is not the case.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:36 PM on April 11, 2009

Have you tried vodka? Especially the high-end varieties are supposed to be about as impurity-free as alcohol drinks get. If you still have the reaction... it's the alcohol.
posted by mmoncur at 2:58 AM on April 12, 2009

I once knew a guy who had trouble with alcohol made from grains, but was fine with tequila and some vodka (something about cheap vodka augmented with non-potato-alcohols) - not so much because the component alcohol was different, but the various 'flavorings' from the original material caused him to get ill.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:36 AM on April 12, 2009

I would try taking the antihistamine after drinking, rather than during, and see what happens. If the antihistamine stops or greatly reduces the effect, you can pretty well know that it is some kind of allergic reaction to something.

FWIW, it might not be a bad idea to get a physical with a comprehensive battery of tests to make sure some system in your body isn't malfunctioning. Or even an allergy test- maybe you've developed an allergy that you didn't used to have.
posted by gjc at 7:30 AM on April 12, 2009

You tried one drink on two different occasions and got no reaction. Then you tried three drinks and got a reaction. Sounds like it's quantity, not necessarily type. I'd go with the advice to try tequila or other non-grain distilled liquor. That and see an allergist.

And do not listen to the advise of taking antihistamines with alcohol, either before or after. That's just asking for trouble... like death.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:00 PM on April 12, 2009

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
I wanted to update this post "What's up with my reaction to alcohol?" After all these years I figured it out. Apparently, one of the main ways that our bodies deal with histamines is through an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). Alcohol causes the brain to reduce the amount of DAO it produces (or possibly just releases?). That's why many people get a little bit red and puffy after a long night of drinking. In any case, apparently alcohol causes me to completely stop producing DAO and so the histamine in my body has nothing to break it down, thus my reaction to alcohol.

On the more practical side, I've found that you can buy DAO as a supplement (I've used one called DAOsin). It allows me to enjoy all the fancy shmancy microbrews I want!

Anyway, this thread comes up when searching for symptoms like the ones I experience, so I thought I'd help any similarly afflicted folk out by providing an update.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2014

« Older how to tumble?   |   can i make delicious greasy street food in my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.