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Why Alcohol Causes Sinus Congestion

author image Diane Marks
Diane Marks started her writing career in 2010 and has been in health care administration for more than 30 years. She holds a registered nurse license from Citizens General Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Arts in health care education from California University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science in health administration from the University of Pittsburgh.
Why Alcohol Causes Sinus Congestion
Why Alcohol Causes Sinus Congestion

Sinus congestion from alcohol is caused by an alcohol intolerance and high levels of histamine in alcoholic beverages, according to CNN Health. One of the first signs of alcohol intolerance and sensitivity to histamine is sinus congestion and flushing of the skin. The condition is commonly referred to as an alcohol allergy, but is accurately diagnosed as an intolerance. The intolerance is a genetic condition where the person’s body is unable to break down the alcohol, leading to complications. states that beer and wine specifically are high in histamine, leading to nasal congestion.

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The primary cause of alcohol intolerance is a genetic trait that makes the body unable to break down the alcohol. In persons with alcohol intolerance, the digestive system is lacking the proper enzymes to digest the alcohol. In addition, ingredients in alcoholic beverages also can cause allergic reactions that result in sinus congestion. These include preservatives such as sulfur dioxide and grains used to make some alcoholic beverages, such as wheat. Certain alcoholic beverages, primarily wine contain, histamine, according to CNN Health. Histamine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that helps the immune system fight off harmful substances. Too much histamine in soft tissue, such as the sinuses, can lead to inflammation and irritation.

Nasal Congestion Reaction

Nasal congestion is the result of inflammation in the sinus cavity, according to the University of Maryland. Histamine found in the alcohol or histamine produced from an allergic reaction due to intolerance leads to nasal congestion. As histamine is released, the sinuses become irritated and inflamed, which prevents the mucus within the sinuses from draining. Other symptoms associated with nasal congestion include difficulty breathing through the nose, sneezing, a runny nose, sinus pressure headaches and postnasal drip. Nasal congestion as a result of drinking alcohol should not last for more than three days. If nasal congestion continues, it may be a sign of another condition.

Other Symptoms

Aside from nasal congestion, alcohol intolerance can cause the skin to become inflamed and itchy. Digestive issues may include heartburn, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and gas, according to If the patient is asthmatic, she can develop a worsened reaction when drinking alcohol. Other symptoms may include an increased heart rate and the jitters.


CNN Health recommends seeing a doctor if you continue to develop moderate to severe reactions when you consume alcohol. If the throat swells, you cannot breathe and hives break out, go to an emergency room to make sure you are not experiencing an anaphylactic reaction. Nasal congestion associated with severe pain and a fever may be caused by a sinus infection, according to University of Maryland.


Avoiding the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the only way to prevent common symptoms from alcohol intolerance, including nasal congestion. Once nasal congestion develops, drink hot liquids and use steam from a hot shower to help soothe and open the swollen sinus passages. Increase the amount of water and fruit juice to keep mucus thin and promote drainage, according to the University of Maryland.

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