Experiencing redness in your face after drinking alcohol is likely due to a condition known as an alcohol intolerance or alcohol flush reaction, which basically means your body cannot properly break down alcohol. The redness that occurs is often referred to as Asian flush reaction, as a high percentage of Asians experience the symptom. It's also possible that facial redness is due to an allergic reaction. An allergy to alcohol is rare, but the other ingredients commonly found in alcoholic beverages can trigger an allergic reaction. If you consistently experience a red face after drinking alcohol, consult a qualified health practitioner for a specific diagnosis.
An intolerance to alcohol is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase-2, or ALDH2, which is normally responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde -- a byproduct of alcohol breaking down in your body. The buildup of acetaldehyde is what produces the facial redness. Other symptoms can also occur, including dizziness, a rapid pulse, headaches and nausea. Anyone can have an intolerance to alcohol, but it is very common in the Asian population. Approximately 50 percent of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have the problem, according to the Auckland Allergy Clinic.
Other ingredients commonly found in alcohol can also cause facial redness as a result of an intolerance. For example, people that have an impaired diamine oxidase enzyme can have difficulty breaking down histamine -- a common ingredient in many alcoholic drinks, particularly red wine. A histamine intolerance can cause facial redness, headaches, nasal symptoms and gastrointestinal problems. Other ingredients found in alcoholic drinks that can trigger intolerance reactions include sulfites, grains and chemical preservatives.
An allergic reaction after drinking alcohol can cause facial redness too. If an allergic reaction occurs, however, it is most likely due to another ingredient rather than the alcohol. In addition to facial redness, other symptoms of an allergic reaction can include a runny nose, sneezing, a tingling sensation in the mouth and rashes, as well as gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea or diarrhea. A severe allergic reaction can cause your throat to close or cause you to go into shock, both of which can be fatal if left untreated. Common allergens found in alcoholic drinks include yeast, rye, hops, barley and wheat. The proteins found in eggs and seafood, which are used to make some beers, can also trigger an allergy.
A doctor can test for the exact cause of your facial redness, potentially identifying the specific problem ingredient or ingredients that are behind the reaction. It's important to get a proper diagnosis for your facial redness even if you only have an alcohol intolerance, and facial redness is your only symptom. High levels of acetaldehyde in your body can lead to increased risk of head and neck cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Lisa Ye, a researcher at the University of Guelph in Canada. Also, symptoms of an intolerance, to alcohol or anything else, can be very similar to an allergy, which unlike an intolerance can be potentially fatal if left undiagnosed.
- Columbia University Go Ask Alice!: Face Turns Red After Drinking
- Ohio Health: Alcohol Intolerance
- University of Guelph: Alcohol and the Asian Flush Reaction
- Auckland Allergy Clinic: Alcohol Intolerance (Adverse Effect to Alcoholic Beverages)
- University of Notre Dame Office of Alcohol and Drug Education: Alcohol Allergies -- Do They Exist?
- Allergy UK: Alcohol Intolerance
- Food Research Education & Research: Food Allergy -- Symptoms