Tobacco and alcohol can lead to fatal reactions including asthma and anaphylaxis (allergic reactions), say experts.
"Although it's rare, allergies to alcohol can cause symptoms such as red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, upset stomach and difficulty breathing," said allergist Sami Bahna, MD, ACAAI past president, and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Louisiana State University Medical School in Shreveport.
Reactions can be triggered by naturally occurring ingredients in beer and wine, including barley, ethanol, grapes, histamine, hops, malt, oats, tryptamine, tyramine, wheat, and yeast.
Other potential allergens may be introduced to beer and wine during processing, including egg whites, which are sometimes used as a filtering agent, and sulfites, which occur naturally in wine but also may be added as a preservative.
Dr. Bahna noted case studies of patients who experience symptoms of asthma and anaphylaxis after drinking wine or beer. He points out that wine, particularly red wine, contains chemicals called tyramines that commonly cause headache.
"Individuals can be allergic to the alcohol itself or an added ingredient, but even when people are not allergic, they may not realize that alcohol can worsen existing allergy symptoms, particularly food allergies," he stated.
While it may seem like common sense that tobacco smoke as a strong irritant worsens asthma, it can also affect seasonal allergy sufferers, revealed Dr. Bahna.
Studies show that exposure to smoke can enhance sensitivity to airborne substances like pollen and mold spores, which wreak havoc during spring and fall allergy seasons each year.
The risks were reported at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Boston, Nov. 3-8.