Are You Allergic to Wine? How to Cure Wine Allergies & Enjoy Drinking Again

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2018

sulfites in wine allergy

Wine Allergy Causes, Symptoms, and Cures

Are you one of the small percentage of people who experience an adverse physical reaction when drinking red wine. Often times, a wine reaction is minor enough that sufferers don’t even realize that it’s a reaction to the wine, instead attributing it to general allergies, a cold, or a hangover. But being allergic to red wine is a real condition, and it’s possible that you’re suffering from it without realizing it.

What is a Wine Allergy?

A wine allergy is a condition in which drinking wine, especially red wine, causes a variety of unpleasant physical symptoms. Symptoms will be covered in full later, but a summary of some of the most common ones include: headache, flushing, shortness of breath, itchy blotchy wine allergy rash, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

Studies have shown that as many as 25% of people show some form of intolerance towards red wine; with women being twice as likely as men to have an allergic reaction.

Red wine allergies are caused by combinations of certain elements present in red wine. The exact cause is somewhat disputed by medical professionals, though they’ve narrowed it down to a small group of compounds.

Red Wine Allergy vs. White Wine Allergy

Wine allergies are nearly always reactions to red rather than white wine. The reason for this has to do with the differences in how red and white wines are made. Red wines are made using the skins of the grapes, while white wines discard the skins before fermenting the wine.

The grape skins are responsible for a number of elements being added to the finished product, many of which impart health benefits, which are often touted as a reason to drink red wine. Those same properties, however, are the causes of red wine allergies.

white wine allergy

The content of grape skins in red wines is one of the main reasons people are less likely to have an allergic reaction when drinking white wine. Pic by Michael Coghlan.

To sum up in layman’s terms, a wine allergy is a physical reaction to drinking wine, and is caused by certain compounds found in wine. Red wines tend to have these compounds more than white wines because they are made from whole grapes, meaning most wine allergies are red wine allergies.

Wine Allergy Symptoms

A wine allergy can produce mild to moderate physical reactions. For those suffering from a light wine allergy, the symptoms may be mild enough that the sufferer doesn’t correctly attribute the cause of the symptoms, and can happily go their whole life without realizing that he or she has a wine allergy.

Here are the possible symptoms of a wine allergy:

  • Headache
  • Flushed skin
  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling of the mouth region, often lips or throat
  • Wheezing
  • Labored breathing
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated heart rate

One thing to keep in mind is that some people have a reaction to alcohol in general and this can produce very similar symptoms.

If you’re experiencing symptoms along these lines after drinking red wine then it is important to observe your reaction when drinking other alcoholic beverages. If you see similar symptoms, it’s more likely that you have an alcohol intolerance. If you only observe the symptoms when drinking wine, especially red wine, then a wine allergy is much more likely.

Wine Allergy Causes and Risk Factors

Elements found in red wine believed to contribute to red wine allergies include LTP, sulfites, histamine, tannin and tyramine.

Lipid Transfer Protein - LTP

Red wines contain a protein called Lipid Transfer Protein (LTP). This is especially found in the skins of grapes, meaning it is present in red wine but not in white. It’s well established that LTP can cause an allergic reaction in a subset of the general population.

Sulfites in wine allergy

Red wines frequently contain sulfites, which are frequently used as food preservatives. Sulfites occur naturally in wine, although in many cases they are added to either control fermentation or to prolong the shelf life of wines.

Sulfites don’t cause a true allergic reaction, but the effect they cause in some people is similar to an allergic reaction. It’s believed that people who suffer from shortness of breath from drinking red wine may be having a reaction to sulfites.

In the United States, wines must include notice on the label if they contain more than 10 parts per million sulfites. Many organic wines make a point of being lower in sulfites than most traditionally made wines.


Histamine is a compound that can be found in most foods that are fermented by bacteria. This includes wines, sauerkraut, and aged cheeses. Histamine is found in considerably higher quantities in red wine than in white wine, sometimes as much as 200% more.

Certain people have an enzyme deficiency that makes them susceptible to reactions to histamine. Further, certain medical professionals believe that some people have a reaction to alcohol, which can lead to an elevation in histamine levels in plasma even when the alcoholic beverage being consumed lacks histamine.

For people sensitive to histamine, taking antihistamines an hour prior to drinking red wine may alleviate or decrease the reaction.


Tannin is a compound that is responsible for giving many red wines their characteristic dry bitterness. Tannins are often cited as one of the beneficial health giving compounds found in red wine, specifically with regards to cardiovascular health. However, some medical researchers believe that tannins may produce an allergic reaction in a small percentage of the population.


Tyramine is a byproduct of the amino acid tyrosine. It occurs in most naturally aged food products, including red wines. A number of adverse medical reactions to Tyramine have been observed, especially in conjunction with certain medications. Some medical professionals attribute some of the cause of wine allergies to tyramine.

Root Causes of Red Wine Allergy

The medical community is divided as to if just one of the above is the predominant cause of wine allergies or if it is a combination of some or all of them; or even if different elements are affecting different wine allergy sufferers.

Wine Allergy Risk Factors

One of the notable symptoms of wine allergy are breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath, and coughing and sneezing. People with asthma are more susceptible to suffering this reaction, and the symptoms may also be more severe.

Another possible risk factor deals with taking certain medication. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, are a class of drugs that can help treat depression, Parkinson’s disease, and a few other disorders. MAOIs can have a negative reaction with Tyramine, and people taking MAOIs should use caution or avoid red wine entirely.

People with allergic reactions to peaches or cherries also tend to have a higher risk of being allergic to grapes. This could translate to a wine allergy as well. Those who suffer from peach or cherry allergies may want to use caution when drinking wines.

sulfites in wine allergy

The sulfites and other compounds found in red wine may cause an allergy. Picture by Carol VanHook.

Treatment and Cure Remedies

The primary suggestion from the medical community is that sufferers of wine allergies should avoid wine as there aren’t any medications that are clinically verified to prevent symptoms of wine allergies.

This is in line with standard medical advice with regard to food and beverage allergies. If experiencing reactions to red wine, sufferers may be able to drink white wine, or other types of alcoholic beverages instead.

It’s possible that antihistamines may alleviate some of the symptoms if the histamine in wine is the factor causing the allergic reaction. However, it’s entirely possible that another compound in the wine is the cause, and if so antihistamines will not help.

Red wine allergies aren’t well known to the general public, and many people suffer from them without being aware that they’re allergic. If symptoms are mild enough, you may wish to continue drinking red wine. But if you are bothered by headaches, loss of breath, or some of the other symptoms then your best course of action is to try white wine, other beverages, or abstain from alcohol altogether.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there any yeast in wine? Yes, yeast plays an important role in the conversion of sugars into alcohol. Without it the wine would not be alcoholic and labeled as being a grape juice. What is thought to be a wine yeast allergy is much more likely to be a result of other the components found in grape sins; see above.

Can you have an allergic reaction to wine? Yes, the symptoms are given above, and may include breathing difficulties, itchy and/or blotchy skin, diarrhoea, and stomach pains.

Why do I get itchy when I drink wine? You are most likely allergic to one of the compounds found in the wine.

What wines do not contain sulfites? Some organic wines are sulfite free.

Do white wines have histamines? Yes, but usually not nearly as many as are present in red wines.

Further Reading and References

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