Alcohol, allergies, histamines and sulfites – reactions from an allergist

As pollen showers down this time of year, a question that many allergy sufferers may have is whether alcohol exacerbates sniffling and sneezing. The answer is yes, but not necessarily for reasons they may think.

Last week, the Times ran a short piece assessing the claim “alcohol worsens allergies.” Their conclusion was yes, particularly for women.

But the problem is not always the alcohol itself. Beer, wine and liquor contain histamine, produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine, of course, is the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms. Wine and beer also contain sulfites, another group of compounds known to provoke asthma and other allergy-like symptoms.

I tweeted about it, curious if anyone had any reactions. I heard back from Sumit Bhutani, M.D., a board certified allergist at Allergy & Asthma Associates in Houston and wine enthusiast (and site reader!). In follow-up emails, he took issue with the treatment in the Times piece for lumping all nasal symptoms as allergies, whether they are or not, and placing undue causality on the histamines and sulfites in wine.

He says that histamines in foods have nothing to do with allergic reactions to those foods, so the amount of histamines in foods is almost never of value to allergists. He sent me a link to this observational study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology entitled “No correlation between wine intolerance and histamine content of wine.”

As to sulfites causing allergies or asthma, Dr. Bhutani says that sulfites cause respiratory symptoms in the small portion of the population already sensitive to them. For them, most whom already have asthma, the reactions are often severe forms of bronchospastic symptoms and may include anaphylactic reactions (you can assess your sensitivity to sulfites by eating five dried apricots, which often have higher levels of sulfites than a glass of wine.) He included a link to another study that tested the theory of low-sulfite and high-sulfite wines in patients with a reported history of asthmatic sulfite reactions. There was no objective drop in the subjects’ breathing test with either wine.

So does the alcohol itself worsen allergies? Dr. Bhutani suggests that when someone’s allergies are flared, alcohol can act as a congestant (a direct vasodilator, in his terms; because it is related to blood-alcohol levels, lower-alcohol wines should cause less congestion.). It’s similar to the way that people with allergies experience increased symptoms around other irritants such as second-hand smoke or strong scents. But he cautions that these indirect irritants are causes of allergy-like symptoms (called rhinitis), not allergies per se. He says that women are affected by this condition three times more than men.

Pity the wine tasters, critics and amateurs alike, that suffer from allergies who may be compounding their problems by tasting at certain times of the year. But if you don’t have allergies, it’s not likely the cause of congestion.

Related: “CONTAINS SULFITES: meant to frighten rather than inform

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97 Responses to “Alcohol, allergies, histamines and sulfites – reactions from an allergist”

  1. I am considering printing and laminating copies of this entry as well as all the attached studies to give to everyone who asks about their allergies at public tastings.

    I am always uncomfortable responding to queries because a small percentage of the population will actually have an allergic reaction, but for most, “go eat a dried apricot” is the best advice I can give.

  2. Great post Dr!
    We often have to explain this as well- very difficult; and confusing- another common “sulfite” complaint is headaches- any thoughts? How about the fact the “sulfites cause hangovers?”

  3. Chance that sulfites in wine gave you a headache: 0.0000001%

    Chance that overdrinking and a hangover gave you the headache: 99.999999%

  4. I’m with Joe (WineDude) on that one. Something had to be the whipping boy for wine headaches and lest it be admitting the fact that perhaps you overdrank, sulfites got the dirty job instead. But trying to convince a non-believer that this is the case is about as easy as trying to convince riesling haters that not all riesling is “sweet”, LOL.

  5. Katie and Joe –

    My consistent favorite is “do the Europeans put more sulfur in the wines they ship here, because I didn’t get a headache when I was in France?…”

    I like to ask as follow up questions:
    Were you on vacation?
    Were you eating a mulitcourse meal?
    Did you have your kids’ to get to bed and homework to finish, and dishes to do, etc?

    Most people see where I am going at this point.

  6. Great post, Tyler. Poking around on PubMed it seems there are other studies that do link histamine reactions to red wine (; as well as variance in histamine content in different reds of anywhere from 200 micrograms per liter to 3,500 per liter, just at a quick glance. Not being a chemistry PhD or enologist myself, I’m wondering if any of the winemakers out there know specifically what accounts for the varying histamine levels in different reds.

    One interesting thing was a study showing that the use of lysozyme in Riojas reduces histamine content (it’s primarily used to kill various lactic-acid bacteria that cause spoilage aromas, as I understand it). What’s interesting is that commercial lysozyme is isolated from egg whites, which makes me wonder whether egg-white fining might as a side effect reduce histamine content, whereas bentonite might not.

    Interestingly, lysozyme is also found in tears, so in theory you could fine your Cabernets by weeping into them.

  7. So glad this post has sparked interest!

    @ Ben – sulfites cause bronchial issues, most often severe in patients who already have asthma, it seems. While wines may give some wine consumers headaches, it’s not because of the sulfites.

    @ Ray – yes, it is obviously multifactoral and hard to isolate causes. It would be interesting to get some clarity on this issue that comes up very often.

    As to crying in your wine, I fear that’s what many high-end wine producers have been doing the for past year or so…does that make them low-histamine wines?

  8. Sulfites CAN cause a problem, and eating dried apricots is a good way to differentiate. I’ve been coming across this problem fairly frequently in my practice recently, i.e.: inability to tolerate alcohol. Sulfites seem to be the exception though. The real problem seems to lie in a yeast/mold/fungus overgrowth in the gut (and possibly nasal cavity). I find this is the reason people get congested when drinking. When you stimulate mucous-secreting cells in the gut, the body typically stimulates all the mucous-secreting cells, hence congestion. Whether or not they are allergic (i.e.: an immune system response) to yeast/mold/fungus doesn’t seem to interfere with eradicating it and allowing the person to be able to drink alcohol again without a problem. One other thing to consider (that I’ve seen) is chronic antibiotic use (as a child or adult) causing a sluggish liver. Then again, this would certainly contribute to an overgrowth of yeast, etc..

  9. Presently suffering from a Pinot Noir induced headache. I love to drink Pinot… but for some reason everytime I do be it one glass or three, it gives me a headache. If I drink the same amount of any other red or white, I am fine… Perhaps the histamine in the Pinot grape itself is higher? Anyone know?

  10. […] Wine, allergies, histamines and sulfites-an allergist’s reaction […]

  11. Most of the studies I’ve seen refer to these histamines as biogenic amines of which some of the names are putrescene and cadaverene. Nice, huh? Also, they’re is some evidence to show that they are a byproduct of Malo-lactic fermentation. This may give some clue as to why some people are more sensitive to reds, since nearly all reds go through ML, where a good deal of whites (Sauvignon Blanc esp.) typically do not. Also, some people claim they can’t drink red wine due to sulfites, when in actuality, whites often have as much or more SO2, due to it’s anti-oxidative properties.

  12. […] anyone who claims they have a sulphite allergy: no you don’t. Sulphites are one of the most misunderstand compounds in the world, and I’ve heard way too […]

  13. A great post and discussion. As a wine lover/biochemist who often teaches about allergies to nutrition students, I am always asked about the wine headache or allergies to red wine or sulfites. So thanks for the eat a dried apricot suggestion.

    The idea that someone doesn’t get headaches when drinking wine in Europe is important here since the whole idea of ‘set and setting’ influencing our physiologic responses is often forgotten. Our bodymind can get conditioned to an unpleasant experience (remember Pavlov?) so we repeat the unpleasant sneezing, headache, whatever, every time we are in a similar setting – drinking red wine – until we avoid the situation never to discover we are fine with red wine.

  14. I have heard talk of many substances in reds that cause allergic reactions but am completely unqualified to comment on what they might be. The Malo piece is an interesting trail to follow as it’s one piece that sets reds apart from some whites.

    I’d like to suggest / request / cajole / encourage / and do whatever else might be required to have Dr. Vino write the definitive book on wine allergies. The myths, misunderstandings, and serious implications behind wine allergies seem ripe for your sort of analysis. I promise to buy at least one copy for me and to spread the word among friends…

  15. I’ve noticed throughout my career that wines with aggressive tannins are the biggest culprit with bad reactions to wine. Young, robust wines in the cellar often give me “red wine headache” where older, softer (pinot, etc.) wines with polymerized tannins have little effect. I think the trend towards fruit bombs and early release oakified (tannin) wines are the most dangerous for some of these reactions in some people. SO-2 has been blamed since the salad bar days and that wrought the modern warning label. (Add vinegar to sulfited vegatables and the pH drops and volatilizes the SO-2).

  16. My wife can be afflicted with headaches and a glass of wine.
    Because I generally pour the wine for her, she isn’t aware of the quality of the wine that I am pouring.
    She develops these headaches after less than 1/2 glass of wine about 20% of the time. Almost exclusively, it has been a lower end wine she was sipping when the headaches develop. I had suspected those lower end wines as having more sulphites.
    Can you suggest alternative reasons as to why those lower end wines created such a problem?
    As for solutions, I no longer pour her lower end wines and she no longer develops headaches.

  17. Jim, there should be no correlation between SO2 level and high or low-end wine. Trust me, there are plenty of high end wines out there pushing the legal limit (there is such a thing, and it’s relatively low compared to what’s allowed in dried fruits). Inversely, there are some low-end “sulfite free” wines out there (“Our Daily Red” @ Trader Joes” for example), that i wonder if she would have a reaction to. I can’t say for sure what would be causing this problem otherwise; lower-end wines MAY have elevated VA (volatile acidity) levels and/or hightened levels of aldehydes. Also, they MAY have higher levels of Fusel oils (alohols with more than 2 carbons), which still quite low compared to the ethanol content, may have some contributory effect. Honestly, a lot of this is still under research, and thus there isn’t a widely accepted answer.

  18. Worth noting the only person ever to die from an allergic reaction sulfites in US did so after eating from a salad bar. Great post Doc!

  19. As alluded to by “in8 enophile”, above, there is considerable material on biogenic amines in wine. Switzerland has been a leader in pursuing this defect, and they have considered requiring including levels of such substances on labels, as well as the possibility of banning wines exceeding certain threshold.

    Amines are indeed the product of bacterial infections that seem to happen in conjunction with malo-lactic fermentations. Especially so called spontaneous ML where the bacteria are unknown. The Swiss have shown that amines, a family of chemicals that include histamines, but also more potent products such as those mentioned by “in8 enophile”, are indeed produced by such unwelcome bacteria.

    How do they act and what are the symptoms?

    It seems we secrete a natural enzyme in our stomach that is designed to scavenge histamines which occur naturally in many foods. The reason they do not affect us is that they are intercepted and neutralized by the enzyme.
    When biogenic amines are present, and bacause of their potency, they will neutralize that enzyme. If one drinks such a contaminated wine, it will neutralize the enzyme. It is when we eat food with that wine and that food contains histamine, that now the histamine is free to proceed and enter our blood stream. Different people respond differently, and chances are different foods have different histamines. This results in many symptoms which are all the result of this process and they include headaches, rashes, itches, etc…

    There are limited numbers of more extreme reactions.

    In order to reduce / eliminate biogenic amines, it is considered best to follow these 2 practices:

    – purchase lab selected bacteria and inoculate the fermenting wine to preclude any “wild” bacteria from being enabled
    – co inoculate when yeast is added so as to give the selected bacteria the chance to dominate and preclude the wild bacteria from having a chance to bloom.

    As of now there is no regulation that requires measuring or publishing levels of biogenic amines in wine in the USA.

    It is also unfortunate that this issue is not publicized. It does not conveniently fit into a soundbite and it is not simple to explain. So we are treated to more inane topics instead.

    As to sulfites, it is considered that a small percentages (about 4%) of those who suffer from asthma may be allergic to sulfites. Which is why the labeling became mandatory when the salad bar incident occurred. So unless one is asthmatic and has been diagnosed as allergic to sulfites, there is no known pathway to point to sulfites as the responsible chemical that causes any of the ills ascribed to it.

  20. Dr Vino, I’m troubled by misinformation on this thread coming from posters. I’m clinically diagnosed as sulfite-allergic, have been hospitalized for it. First, the “eat a dried apricot” is NOT a good test. Sulfur dioxide and metabisulfite are not the same thing. A sulfite-sensitive person is vastly more sensitive to metabisulfites than sulfur dioxide. A better test is reaction to lemon juice, horseradish, wine vinegar, anesthetics, pain medications, air fresheners, high fructose corn syrup and food dyes (candy) — the sulfite-allergic person will react to these things that all contain metabisulfites. They’re likely to have a lot of seemingly unrelated asthma attacks from household and food products because of hidden sulfites. Typical sulfite reaction is lips and mouth swelling, severe asthma and suffocation. A truly sulfite-sensitive person is going to stay away from the tasting room.
    Someone commented about deaths. There have been many documented deaths from sulfite reactions, both from food and beverage consumption, industrial exposure and from anesthesia reactions. The FDA acted responsibly by requiring the labeling law for wine. Be glad you’re not sulfite-sensitive and go enjoy your tasting. 🙂

  21. Big Sur, in an aquious solution (water, wine, saliva) metabisulfide does form SO2. In regards to wine especially, winemakers can choose to hit their SO2 levels by adding KMBS (potassium metabisulfide), or pure liquid SO2. I can’t really speak to the dried fruit industry, though I do know there are sulfite free options available. Also, there are certainly people with sulfite allergies ( there’s an allergy to everything it seems), but the problem is people who assume they have a sulfite allergy due to bogus information. I would argue only a fraction of people have this allergy who think they do. More often their reactions are sinus headaches than the ones you mentioned.

  22. Sorry, aqueous

  23. An intersting thing to consider, one mililiter of store-bought 3% hydrogen peroxide will bind up all of the sulfites in an entire bottle of wine. You can effectively create your own bottle of sulfite-free wine!

    Of course, the reaction of SO2 and hydrogen peroxide creates sulfuric acid, and in large enough quantities will obviously affect the acid levels in the wine. But how much would be produced from one drop?

    Any ideas on this ln8 enophile?

    And Jim, sensitivity to sulfites does not cause headaches. There is actually a seperate term called, believe it or not, ‘Red Wine Headache’ or RWH. Since there hasn’t been enough interest (read – money invested) in researching which compounds in red wine may be the culprit in causing RWH, it is still unknown what exactly is giving people headaches when they drink wine, especially red.

    I also wanted to add my raised hand to add that there is no such thing as ‘sulfite free’ wine. No sulfites added maybe, but since one of the byproducts of fermentation are sulfites, all wines have a bit in them.

  24. What I’ve begun to wonder about – is there a difference in incidence of headaches comparing wines from organically grown grapes vs conventional. How much residual pesticides could be in conventional wines? Could this be a problem? I’m greatly appreciating this discussion.

  25. Lab Guy, you’re correct in regards to the binding properties of H2O2, and, in fact, this is the hush-hush fix if you over SO2 your wine. Now, hydrogen peroxide is VERY oxidative, so in addition to breaking the law, you are also driving a lot of oxidative reactions. I don’t know how much sulfuric acid is produced at that add rate, probably not very much, and I wouldn’t expect a notable jump in TA. But on the other hand, OH MY GOD, THERE’S SULFURIC ACID IN MY WINE!!??!!
    While I agree with you that SO2 is a normal by-product of fermentations (and that’s why I put sulfite free in quotations in my previous post), I have personally seen “non-detect” lab reports from a major wine lab. I can’t explain it either! Also, as you probably know, you can have up to 10ppm SO2 and still not have to put “contains sulfites” on your label for this very reason.
    Sondra, there is certainly some carry-over from what is used in the vineyard to what ends up in the wine. Dirty secret, we don’t wash the grapes before we crush them! Other than some residual sulfur issues though, I haven’t seen too much about this relative to headaches.

  26. I have a very different reaction to wine…maybe someone can help me. Up until about 20 yrs ago, I could drink wine (and sometimes a lot of it!) without any issues. Now, if I have as little as a sip or two, my entire body aches as if I have a bad case of the flu. It hurts so much that I need to lie down…I actually can’t function for about 20 minutes and then it goes away. I’m Italian and not being able to drink wine just doesn’t work! Any suggestions? Also, any ONE glass of beer or any alcoholic drink gives me a nasty headache in the middle of the night that only Excedrin will help.

  27. This is a great discussion. I supposedly had a reaction to sulfites in a salad bar when I was in high school before the warnings came out. I swelled up like a balloon and had to suck on ice chips to keep my throat open to breathe. No doctor was available, but thankfully a phys. ed. teacher came to my aid with aspirin and ice. I really felt horrible for a few hours, but once the swelling went down, I was better. I used to get congested drinking beer and wine as a young adult, but somewhere along the line I guess I “grew out of it” and am not bothered with it now. Some of these posts seem very feasible as to the causes/reactions.

  28. Has anybody having “red wine headaches” considered maybe trying an Organic wine? The headaches may have also been caused to over use of pesticides in the vineyard.

  29. I have a bad reaction when drinking wine red/white. My nose explodes with mucus and i cannot stop sneezing. I was told that i could have an histamine overload with foods eaten and wine. I dont eat cheese, tuna, mackeral etc which i believe to be high in histamine, i was scored 1-10 if i have say five histamine containing foods like tomatoes,olives,smoke salmon i will suffer an overload. This only happens sometimes i tried elimanting histamine foods for while no joy. I am interested in gut bacteria and how to cure it.

  30. I am currently dealing with nasal congestion and I did drink red wine last night. I have only recently begun to question whether red wine or alcohol in general adds to my nasal congestion. I have come to realize that it may increase my congestion and believe at this time (many comments made confirm some of this for me)that it is related to mold allergies currently. I also get red wine headaches even after only 1 glass of red wine if I haven’t been drinking it daily. If I have had a glass or more daily, then I do not suffer headaches unless I overdo it or do not eat enough. I have found red wine to be dehydrating and if I make sure I consume water while drinking it helps to keep headaches at bay also. I have found being hydrated helps with my congestion as well.

  31. This is all very interesting! I drink very little alcohol at all, but do enjoy (not now!) an infrequent glass of WHITE wine (mid range bottled), and over the last year or so, consistently get a headache ie I wake up with one! I am female, mid 50s. Any ideas?

  32. Hi, I’m a senior female and have nasal polyps. The allergist told me not to drink wine because of sulfites. I notice that here in California if I do drink a glass of red or white my nose gets blocked immediately and stays that way for a day or two. I have just returned from a month in London, U.K. where I drank a glass or two every evening and not once did my nose react. Why the difference?

  33. It is highly possible that you lack a certain enzyme called “Aldehyde Dehydrogenase” (Sp?) which would mean that alcohol could not be processed properly, making it rather toxic, depending on whether you simply don’t have enough of the enzyme required for digesting it or none at all. It runs in families and is mostly likely genetic. My father had the same problem later in life that I have had for at least 25 years or more.
    The only way you could find out is if you were to take an anti-histamine prior to having a drink (without sulfites would be best) to see if it is indeed another type of allergy. The bad news is you may not be able to have alcohol, like me. The good news is that in all the studies I’ve read, the people with the gene that causes them to not be able to drink alcohol is also linked to the gene that prevents dementia! (I’m happy about that, because my mother has severe dementia…but at least she can drink alcohol I guess! ) Good luck…I do save a lot of money not buying any alcoholic beverages! –Candace Mc

  34. I have had a sinus infection and have allergies pretty regularly. Two weekends in a row I drank ONE glass of Frei Bros (Chardoney) and within a few hours my throat was tight, could not swallow easily and my nose cavities close COMPLETELY. It was sooo scary. I took benadyl immediantly and almost had to use an epipen. I didn’t put two and two together until the second time it happened. Could it be the wine?

  35. I have a slighly different question to ask about allergies and wine – I have recently developed eczema , firstly on my hands and now all over my arms and back and legs. At the age of 56 I realise I must have developed an allergy to something in my diet. Could I possibly be allergic to white wine, which I drink regularly? If so, which alcoholic beverage should I switch to?

  36. Hi, I googled sulfites (again) to do more research on allergic reactions to this underlying beast that haunts me. I have not drank any wine since about 200 when I got crimson red all over and had asthma for 6 months from one glass of red wine. I am very careful as even salad dressings and of course dried fruits put a rash on my lips, then down my throat and esophagus and ending with extreme congestion. I tried the Frey organic no sulfites added wine very cautiously about 2 months ago starting with a touch of the wine on my lips and then the next eve a tiny tiny sip – all was fine. I have enjoyed just a few glasses and thought I would try the chardonnay of Frey last night – I got a rash on my lips almost immediately with one sip. So now that I have had this reaction to the Chardonnay, I will probably not be able to drink the red now that the allergy has been started. I clearly have an allergic reaction to sulfites so Dr. Bhutani’s statement above that we would not have allergic reactions to sufites or wine if we didn’t already have allergies is incorrect. (what does that statement mean anyway? It’s an obtuse observation) I have a distinct reaction to sulfites every time I am in contact with it.

  37. I am allergic to sulfites and have gotten my wine fix by drinking Sake. TY KU is perhaps the tastiest

  38. […] glycoproteins?! New research suggests that glycoproteins in wine may be the cause allergic reactions. Will we see a Surgeon General’s warning for glycoproteins on the label before we see any […]

  39. […] has been what causes headaches (aside from drinking too much). As we have discussed before, histamines that naturally occur in wine could be a cause of some allergic reactions. Now there is something […]

  40. […] dolores de cabeza (aparte de haber bebido demasiado). Como ya se ha discutido, las histaminas (histamines) que ocurren naturalmente en el vino podrían ser la causa de algunas reacciones alérgicas. Pero […]

  41. […] has been what causes headaches (aside from drinking too much). As we have discussed before, histamines that naturally occur in wine could be a cause of some allergic reactions. Now there is something […]

  42. Jim,

    My wife gets a bad headache and often migrane from chocolate, cheese, beer and red wine/cheap white wine – but not alcohol. The reaction and relationship are not clear until you forego all of the above for a couple of months, then it is consistently and painfully clear. The cheap white wine reaction is due to squeezing the grapes so hard that the juice from the hulls contaminates the juice from the interior. It is due to tyramine The darker the chocolate and more aged the cheese the more significant the problem.

  43. […] as we have discussed before, whether amines in wine cause allergic reactions remains open for debate. One clinical study found no correlation between the two. The Oxford Companion to Wine writes that […]

  44. I read the histamine/sulfite discussion above with great interest, however the reason I found this site is because I googled “allergies and fine wine.” Do you think there might be a correlation between those who have casein allergies or egg white allergies and negative reactions to red wine from vineyards who fine their wine using these substances? I understand there is a straining process, but might it be possible that casein or egg whites remain in the liquid? Thanks.

  45. […] in an average glass of wine will measure 10mg, whereas a 2oz serving of those bright orange dried apricots typically has 112mg. Yep, over 10 times as much as a glass of […]

  46. […] in an average glass of wine will measure 10mg, whereas a 2oz serving of those bright orange dried apricots typically has 112mg. Yep, over 10 times as much as a glass of […]

  47. Hello Dr. Vino. Nice to find your site. I am not a Winer but perhaps a Whiner.

    Wine and aged cheese eaten at one time gave me two full days of headache pain. We can speak about numbers and sulfites and molds as to the cause but, if it bothers one …cut out the offender. However, if wine is ones drink of choice, one may want to try this…..

    Make your own wine. If the processed and ‘supposedly fine’ wines bother you, find a wonderful older Italian or French gentleman and he can tell you how to make wine naturally. The house I rented for four years in the 60’s had very old grapevines brought from Italy in the back. The man who owned them would come up and gather the grapes and make red wine every year. He couldn’t make much with only one arbor, but knew how to care for the vines, to get the best from them naturally. His wine was wonderful and clear. I suppose now they would call it organic. I called it exceptional.

  48. I really am allergic to alcohol. I do not possess the enzyme required to process alcohol by breaking it down into two components — one is sugar, the other is released through the lungs — the one that gives most people that “happy” feeling. In my case there is no “happy” feeling. I do not have the aldehydedehydrogenase in my bloodstream – the enzyme of which I speak. It is hereditary. Basically, if I take a sip of alcohol it turns into formaldehyde when it hits my lips and I have trouble breathing and get extremely ill, requiring antibiotics. It probably wouldn’t kill me — I just get very, very sick. My father had it too — later in life for him. He could not drink either — Like father, like daughter!

  49. If you are missing an enzyme, it is not an allergy. Your lack of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) results in metabolic products that cause your reactions. An allergy means that your body is making antibodies to ADH or antthing else. The ADH problem is most often seen in Asian people, a genetic error.

    Quite a shame to not be able to enjoy wine.

  50. Can I contact you and show you some photos of the allergic reaction I ha over the weekend? It has to be from alcohol an it was really bad! Thanks!

  51. I have never been bothered by the sulfites in wine. I’m a wine enthusiast, live in California, and never ever have had a reaction to sulfites in wine. BUT: I cannot eat a serving of french fries from a burger joint or a salad at a restaurant without having an attack of severe phlegm-filled coughing within about 20 minutes of finishing. Why don’t the sulfites in wine bother me the way the added sulfites in restaurant produce do.

  52. I’ve read the article and all the posts here and still have no clue as to what “allergen” my body may be responding to. For the past 27 years, I’ve had a reaction to both wine and beer that causes a burning sensation in my face/forehead with resulting bright red splotches — this after only a sip or two of wine (red or white). I have the same reaction to niacin tablets. A couple of weeks ago I developed a light, itchy rash on my wrists. A few days ago I got the same, but more intense, rash while crushing grapes (our own organic) for wine and realized the first rash developed after I crushed grapes for juice. So, what’s the common denominator between beer/wine/grapes that can cause both an internal and external reaction?

  53. […] Buyers are reporting a huge jump in sulfuric acid prices in’s monthly survey an…me. […]

  54. Furkan Güngör / Blog…

    […]Wine, allergies, histamines and sulfites – reactions from an allergist | Dr Vino's wine blog[…]…

  55. I have a different problem out of the blue when I drink wine I get with some heart pulpatations and now a days I find that I get hot spouts my feet hands ears are starting to warm up so badly I can sleep something like hot flusses.
    What could this be please advise?

  56. My reaction to drinking wine is shortness of breath. I am asthmatic so I must be in that small percentage of people that are prone to sensivity to sulfites. I developed the sensitivity in my 40’s. Before that I never had a problem. I stopped drinking alcohol altogether for about 10 years. I was being treated for cervical spondylosis by a practioner of Chinese medicine. He used a combination of acupunture and Tui-Na. I told him about my asthma and sulfite sensitivity. After treatment I was able to tolerate wine drinking again. That was about 2 years ago. The problem seems to be returning. I will go back to get more treatment and see if it is effective.

  57. I LOVE red wine. On many occassions, it does bother me in the form of stuffy nose and asthma-like symptoms for the next day or 2. It is not consistant and only happens about 1/2 of the time. I think it probably has more to do with my body and what is going on inside than the wine. I am guessing the wine may trigger something but not the cause. I usually take a few sips and see where it is going before I proceed. Usually one glass will be OK if I pay attention to what is happening in my body. However, if I proceed slowly I can usaully figure it out pretty quickly whether or not I can have more. I am unwilling to give it up (so few things I enjoy so much!!) so this process seems to work for me.

    So, somtimes it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I think of it as “use caution and proceed slowly”…..


  58. For over fifteen years I have not been able to drink alcohol due to a condition called Samter’s Triad. IT is asthma, nasal polyps and an allergy to aspirin/ibuprofren. Any type of alcohol (including beer) can be added to the mix. I’m really starting to think that sulfites could be the cause of my problems with the nasal polyps. I do miss the occasional glass of wine.

  59. Just though I would share this anecdote on the subject at hand . . .

    Set the “way back machine”,Sherman, to early 2000’s; wifey constantly getting ‘wine headaches’,bad ones! So she swore off wine, MAJOR bummer! Two years or so off wine, we are at an event in Boston, and a wine club is set up doing promo for their schtick, including tastings. We explain our plight to the guy at the booth, and he listens with empathy and understanding; long story sickening, he is from California, a gardner, a wine guy, and a chef. He advises us to try wines that are not sourced from product grown in California soils, saying – and this to the point of this thread – California soils contain higher levels of histamines. Since we have employed his advice, wifey has been ‘wine headache’ free. Does she miss out on some extraordinary product from CA? Yes, however she does NOT miss the headaches! So, any correlation of this experience on this topic? You decide. Thanks for letting me share.

    Good tasting every one!


  60. Sorry everyone, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone! I did some more reading of the professional trials and tests cited in the above article by ‘Dr Vino’. I wanted to add for some clarification and posssibly some assist to others searching for a headache free wine inclusive life, that prior to our ‘non-California’ approach, we had been all the way around the barn on the sulfite free ‘goose chase’, to no avail; trying only organically grown and produced wine as well. I am thinking now, after reading two study results above, that if not the actual Histamine, in the soil and thus the fruit, of California; then maybe it is an organic/chemical level of something else that acts as a trigger, via the wine in my wife’s system that results in her headaches, and maybe others reading here.

    I found this: (quote~ DR. GIFFORD JONES — Toronto Sun
    Jan. 10, 2006)> Dr. Frietag, also a sufferer of red wine headache, offers a solution. He reports he can drink some reds and not others. For instance, he’s able to imbibe in almost every California wine, but only certain wines from France. However, he adds, some of his patients can only drink French reds! So if you suffer from RWH, so much for that theory.

    The Harvard Health Letter suggests that if tannins are the culprit, you should try a wine with a lower tannin content such as Beaujolais instead of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Other experts speculate that many people today are drinking young California red wines, having heard of the health benefits of this nectar. Young wines tend to have more of the substances that cause headaches but some of these become inert with age. The answer, they say then, is to drink older wines to reduce the risk of exposure to RWH[red wine headache]. (end quote)

    Well, thanks again for letting me add my two cents. Hoping all with this unfortunate nuisance will find their way to enjoying red wines to their liking and headache free!

    Good tasting, Thomas

  61. I’ve just been given a low-potassium diet to follow and wonder about potassium levels of different wines–also, are organic wines lower in potassium?


  62. Sumit Bhutani, M.D.: After drinking my 1st glass of alcohol (red wine) in 8 years, the next day I full blown nasal allergies. It has persisted 3 days. I have not had allergies of any sort, not taken meds since I stopped drinking.

  63. I always have been sulphite intolerant. I have also experienced headache free wine consumed in Europe and other parts of the world. Drinking organic wine has been a good solution, but even some of those, which do not cause the headaches, are recently causing mouth,tongue and throat swelling and mouth sores. I do not get either reaction to beer, but may be sensitive to other alcoholic drinks. I have no other asthma symptoms. Apparently there is no single answer yet.

  64. Wine, grapes, pomegranates, peaches, shellfish, doritos, stay white (something they put in salads to keep from turning brown)all give me hives and my throat constricts. Always thought it was sulfites but someone told me if I could eat onions and garlic then it wasn’t sulfites.

  65. I was waking up after drinking wine, white or red, in the evening. I have stopped drinking wine altogether for over a week now and as a result I have not once woken up with a sinus headache. Sad, but sweet relief. Whether this is histamines or sulphites I have no idea – though this article and comments have helped. What has helped most is not drinking wine unfortnately!

  66. Histamines and other biogenic amines like putrescine, cadaverine, tyramine form part of wine as a result among other things of the presence of bacteria in the fermentation process. Try other foods with high content of naturally occurring amines like nuts, cold cuts, cheese, avocado to find whether or not you may be sensitive to them (either because you lack proper enzymes that metabolize amines or that the amount of alcohol you drink may inhibit those enzymes -monamine oxidase and diamine oxidase).

  67. I believe it’s a histamine intolerance, that is causing many of these problems. I’m currently on a histamine free diet to test whether it’s what been causing my Lone Atrial Fibs. No vinegar, soy, wheat, yeast, spinach, tomatoes or tomato products. No avocado, citrus fruits, lemon, berries, beans, mushrooms, strawberries, or eggplant. I’m already a vegan. I quit drinking wine and beer years ago because it was definitely causing atrial fib in me. I was a wine collector, and quite often would get sinus issues from it, but didn’t care. By the early 2000’s I was drinking a half bottle to full bottle every night. Then arrhythmias started. Even though I stopped alcohol, I would still have them. Then I stopped concentrated sugars. Then fried oils. Yet the arrhythmias continued. I have no underlying heart issues, according to my cardiologists. It’s only recently that I discovered “histamine intolerance”, and I think now I may be on the right track. It’s not an allergy, so allergy tests won’t show it. It’s a build up, over time, of histamines, without enough of the required enzyme, diamine oxidase, to get rid of it before it becomes toxic to your body. Even though I was cutting out a lot of things, I was continuing to eat a lot of histamine rich foods. The experiment is under way….


  69. I am currently having a serious allergic reaction towards wine that I am finishing/have had this evening.

    One thing that sticks in my mind as a waitress over the years: I was in a wine class with some wine purveyor or another and had the presence of mind to ask if wines were ‘vegan’. The answer surprised me – NO. Most wines are not vegan. I pretty much forget the purveyor’s answer in entirety, but the parts that struck me were that egg whites and blood (origins unknown)were used to ‘float’ impurities to the top of the batch, to then be ‘skimmed off’.

    I’ve never forgotten that answer. :shudder:

    Anyway, presently, after having 2-3 small glasses of wine (Sangria) I am currently having what is probably the worst case of ‘blowing my nose, over and over and over…’ for the last 2-3 hours.

    While I do have some common state wide allergies here in the state of Mass, the wine itself is the only outside irritant in my day.

    It’s pretty, well VERY obvious that this wine, with it’s preservatives, sulfites and perhaps sulfides are the cause. I have not had any type of alcohol in quite a few months and have never found myself to be particularly ‘allergic’ to wine or any other type of alcohol per se.

    In regards to commenters that have mentioned having wine within regions of France or Spain or wherever, those wines would most likely not have any type of preservatives. There is a large population of wine drinkers in the origin regions, to likely suppose that local wine, imbibed within the ‘fresh’ time frame, would not include any preservatives at all, and thus, taking away from impurities that would then in fact, create the ‘hangover’ or any type of ‘after effects’, such as I am presently having.

    I cannot suppose this as I have never been to France or Spain, but I would love to hear the theories or real life examples.

    :just my 2 cents:

  70. Hello I live in Australia. Some brands of wine I am fine with, but others send my nose streaming after the first glass. Then I sneeze for hours and end up with blocked sinus’s for all the next day.
    I also cannot eat onions or any of the onion family as I get older. Apart from bloating, and running to the toilet within the hour, I find myself wide awake around two in the morning and am unable to get back to sleep for hours. Only with onions, or foods containing onion powder.

  71. If the only reaction you are getting from your wine is a headache or a stuffy nose, your problem is not a sulfite sensitivity. The vast majority of people that have a sulfite reaction have a sensitivity and not a true allergy. This means a couple of things. These people are not having a histamine response – it is a metabolic breakdown in which their bodies fail to convert sulfites to sulfates and the sulfites aree consequently released into their system rather that the innocuous sulfates that most people are able to convert them to. They then basically have a toxic reaction. Symptoms include headache and congestion – but also throat swelling, rashes, variable blood pressure, tachycardia, tinnitus, asthma, IBS, dyslexia, Raynauds syndrome,lightheadedness, inability to concentrate, inability to sleep, excessive worry, sense of doom and others. This typically starts about 12 hours after ingestion and lasts around three days. If you had a sulfite sensitivity, you would have many more symptoms than a headache.

  72. Excellent post, Tracy. You did a great job of summarizing the mechanism of action of a sulfite sensitivity, as well as provided a thorough list of the symptoms that can occur.

    I am sulfite sensitive, and as a result have experienced some rather severe neurological and cardiac symptoms and have actually blacked out countless times throughout my life. If you actually had a sulfite sensitivity, you would probably feel chronically ill. Sulfites are ubiquitous in foods, especially processed foods. I have to maintain an extremely strict diet, and trying to do as much as drink a soda (corn syrup contains sulfites) can leave me bedridden for several days.

    Also, the FDA estimates that about 1% of the population is sulfite sensitive, with 0.05% having a severe sensitivity, not the 0.0000001% stated earlier. I realize it was meant to be funny, but to give people a real idea of your chances of sulfite sensitivity, 1 in 100 people are estimated to have any level of sulfite sensitivity (about the same chances of being autistic or schizophrenic), while the chances of having a severe sensitivity are about 1 in 2000, not 1 in one billion.

  73. […] in certain wine drinkers, according to an article in the New York Times. And while seems to be no consensus on the effects of histamines and sulfites in wine drinkers, scientists do agree that alcohol can […]

  74. I drink almost exclusively red wine. When I drink at home or out for evening I do not have a problem at all, not even if I over indulge. However when I go wine tasting , not over indulgence, within 24 hours I get extreme rhinitis, sore throat that leads to cough. These symptoms last for 3-4 days. Could this be allergy or just coincidence? It is very predictable now that I think about it.

  75. I suffer from a pretty severe sulfite allergy. It seems as though every food that contains them makes me break out in a rash. Can anyone here help me out? Do you all know of some way to detect if foods have sulfites in them? Is there some concentration level in food that won’t provoke my allergies?

  76. Hey Samantha. I know exactly how you feel. I have a pretty severe sulfite allergy as well, but I’ve been dealing with it for quite some time now. If you’re questionable about a particular food or drink, you can easily test whether they contain sulfites or not. I’ve ordered sulfite detectors online and used them at home. They have really helped me to determine which foods and drinks are safe for me.

  77. All contributions have been helpful to understand my reactions to sulphites, etc. However, no one has mentioned the effect to which I suffer from sulphiites and that is severe diarrhea. This occurs primarily with white wines. I’m so sick of the wallpaper in the bathroom since I seem to visit it more often than any other room. Have any of you winos have a similar reaction (I don’t mean to the wall paper)

  78. I find the post from DeNiro’s blog regarding the glycoproteins very interesting. I have a sensitivity to gluten, and also sometimes have an issue with sneezing, runny nose, and inflammatory responses of varying degrees when I drink wine, mainly whites. Since the gluten sensitivity is caused by lack of enzymes that are able to break down the proteins in gluten, I wonder if this reaction is similarly an enzyme/protein issue. Will have to ask my NMD about that… Thanks for the blog!

  79. I have had a recent experiance that has left me dumbfounded. About 2 months ago I was out with my hubby and we shared a bottle of unfamiliar red between us. As he was driving, I had the majority of it. The next morning I woke to find blue residue on the sheets and pillow cases, only on my side of the bed. This happened again a month later after we had a dinner party and some champagne at home. I have never, ever had this happen before and it seems quite obvious it was triggered by this red wine and now seems triggered by wine in general.
    Any thoughts?

  80. […] While a small portion of the population is allergic to sulfites, an allergist once told me that those who are allergic generally have preconditions, such as asthma. Further, the reactions are most often severe and may include anaphylaxis (note: […]

  81. Neophyte wine drinker who is, however, interested to wine and pays attention. I am a former allergy sufferer (as a kid) — largely reformed in adulthood — but who noticed that upon having a few glasses of low-brow red, that my sinuses became affected. I did not develop a headache but definitely associated the reaction to the sulfites in the wine. I understand that this is likely not an “allergy,” as explained in this thread, and sort of think there might be credence to the theory that the (adverse) reaction might be affected to tannin levels and/or the age of the wine. Thank you.

  82. *to = “in”
    *affected (2nd) = “connected”

    I’ll love the taste of red — this is a malbec — but am definitely in the market NOT to have a hay-fever reaction when out “enjoying” wine with my friends.

  83. *I’ll = “I”. Sorry!

  84. There is no doubt in my mind that there are significantly more sulfites in the wine in OZ than in the wine produced in other markets. I have lived in Europe and in the western US and only once had a reaction to a wine before. It was in California and it was mid-way through glass of “new world” red. Sneezy, nasally and blushing. Re the sheets turning blue after the red here: I said the sheets were tinged with blue when I awoke in the morning. My skin had not changed its color. I have noticed more of that snotty, coughing (like a mild cold) reaction more often since moving here and generally after consuming the OZ red varietals. I am not a scientist, but It seems pretty obvious to me.

  85. I as I get older, I seem to get more and more “allergic” to alcohol… Sake, Whiskey, vodka & tonight it happens to be a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc… If I didn’t know better, I’d think I’d come down with a terrible cold… But, it’s just the wine, I’m certain I’ll feel 100% better tmrw. But, right now, after just 2 glasses, I’m sneezing & so congested that my lips have become quite dry as a result of my mouth breathing. What is going on?!?! My teerh kind of hurt, too?!

  86. I have some type of allergy to wine because after I drink a glass my nose starts to run and I start to sneeze. Common sense says – NO MORE WINE!

  87. I have Grover’s disease, agonizing rash for 2 years. Trying Molybdenum, many topical salves, prescription and otc with no relief. Am trying the reduced sulfite concept.

  88. I have an allergy to wine and other alcohol but not headaches. I get red in the face and get very hot. It starts under my eyes or on my ears. I can feel it coming on and other people will tell me when it’s starting. If I drank more I don’t know what would happen. I don’t. It kind of scares me. This happens with very little of many alcohols but it doesn’t always happen. It confuses me because I don’t know, until I drink some, if it’s going to cause a reaction.

  89. The blue tinge in the morning has gone away completely…but could easily be down to the fact that its summer in Australia and to hot for reds. Summer is mostly whites and champagnes. I have not been getting the snotty sniffly next morning thing as much either so wondering how much is the sulphites and how much might be down to tannins? BTW…I eat dried apricots on occasion and no reaction.

  90. Very informative! I am sensitive to almost all alcohol, always thought sulfites in wine, impurities in alcohol… But recently started trying Chardonnay again and have found some sneeze me right up, while others are just fine. One I have found that doesn’t cause a reaction for me is Avant by Kendall Jackson. Just tried La Crema – and was SOdissappointed that it caused severe sneezing/stuffiness. Is there a list, or could some people share which cause a problem? and more importantly which do not!

  91. I never know if I’m going to have a reaction to the wine or not. I do suffer from allergies and receive shots for them. If I do react to the wine (usually white) it begins around my eyes and spreads out from there. My skin feels tight and puffy like I’m sunburned. It doesn’t take very much wine as I’ve been affected by taking communion wine. I’m 61 years old and this is a new “ailment” of my golden years. I love a good crisp white wine and would love any recommendations that might not affect me.

  92. I am not a doctor, but both my father and I reached a point in our lives when we could no longer have any alcohol. From what I’ve been told, it was because we lacked the necessary amount of an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (Sp?), the digestive agent that must be present in order for the body to safely and productively break down alcohol, breaking the molecule into two parts — one that goes through the liver, finally leaving the body through sweat and while other even more unpleasant forms of waste, the other part then exits through the lungs. Both he and I would just get really sick whenever we tried to drink. I still do. (Unfortunately he passed away in 1995, but not from that!) I hope this is helpful and not too depressing!

  93. I suffer from extreme levels of sneezing after drinking red wine, some beers and sparking wine (I don’t really drink white wine) – I would be really interested to know if this could be connected to sulfides or histamine as I don’t tend to get a noticeable reaction to any other foods.

  94. I get more wheezing than sneezing! I think mine is a histamine problem or it could just be that I lack the enzyme, aldehyde-dehydrogenase required to process alcohol. My father had the same problem, but we’re not sure why, though it’s obviously hereditary I think in our case. I hope this helps.

  95. […] wine can cause allergies. Many people are allergic or become allergic to tannins, sulfites and histamines. All of these can cause hives, redness, itching or congestion. Personally red wine is worse that […]

  96. OKAY….I hit paydirt! For all you wine buffs who have been having cold-like symptoms out there like I have….it IS the suphites (the dirty rascals). I have been having more reactions since I moved to Australia where sulphites are used more in wines and have had to especially back off of reds (sob). I was recently wondering around the wheatbelt in Western Australia and stumbled across a little winery that does chemically free wines. I have had their Zinfandel several times now with absolutely NO REACTION! Its really good as well. The place is called Downderry Wines and its just outside of Narrogin. They have a web site. Just thought I’d pass the good news along. They produce other varietals…can totally vouch for the Zin.

  97. About one year ago, I started getting sinus congestion out of the blue. I had about 6 sinus infections. And I had never even had one in my life or taken a decongestant or antihistamine in years. So for one year I suffered. I panicked when I found a little mold in my apartment and I always blamed it on the mold. Then after the mold was professionally cleaned, still same sinus problems. Went to several doctors and I got a range of explanations. Well, I had always been a red wine drinker but about one year ago I had switched 100 percent to white. I switched back to red for reasons having nothing to do with my sinus issues and guess what? I’ have not taken a claritin in weeks!


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