Alcohol Allergy and Asian Flush – Is There a Difference?

It is quite common for people to experience adverse reactions after drinking alcohol. Some of these symptoms include a swollen and red flushed face, headaches, hives, itchiness, nausea, and in more severe cases, even seizures and unconsciousness. This article will examine two of the most commonly reported alcohol related disorders: Asian flush and alcohol allergy.

Asian Flush is Leaving me Red Faced!

Research shows that as many as 50% of Asians experience a red face after drinking alcohol. This is referred to commonly as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow”, and more technically referred to by some scientists as “Alcohol Flush Reaction”.

The primary cause of this reaction stems from the body’s inability to properly break-down alcohol. The reason why the body has trouble breaking down the alcohol is because people who suffer from Asian flush have an inactive enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). This enzyme is normally responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of the metabolism of alcohol. As result of the body not being able to properly break it down the acetaldehyde, the toxin accumulates and causes all kinds of reactions such as the red flushing commonly reported by sufferers. Whilst the red face/neck is the most common and reported symptom among sufferers, other symptoms you might experience include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and an increased pulse – which are interestingly very similar to some alcohol allergy related symptoms.

Scientists don’t know why the enzyme is more likely to be inactive in people of Asian descent, but studies have shown that the enzyme deficiency that causes Asian Flush is genetic and has the potential to be passed down by both parents. According to the weight of medical opinion, there isn’t much one can do to fix their enzyme deficiency. However, there are several remedies available on the internet that have been proven to be successful.

Alcohol Allergy is Rare!

In contrast to Asian flush and related toxic reactions to alcohol discussed above, allergic reactions to alcohol are relatively uncommon. In people with extremely severe alcohol allergy, as little as 1ml of pure alcohol (about a mouthful of beer) is enough to provoke severe rashes, breathing difficulties, stomach cramps and even unconsciousness.

When the liver breaks down alcohol and converts it into acetaldehyde (as discussed above), the acetaldehyde is then transformed into acetic acid (vinegar). The problem occurs if the alcohol cannot be broken down. This is because, as well as ethanol, alcoholic beverages contain other things such as yeast, hop, grape, barley, wheat natural food chemicals, wood derived substances and preservatives. Severe alcohol allergies have been described in people who experience allergic reactions to proteins within grapes, yeast, hops, barley and wheat and some of the other abovementioned substances. These people are not sensitive to alcohol itself, and accurately speaking, do not suffer from an ‘alcohol’ allergy. In addition to this, fining agents (such as egg or seafood proteins) are often used to remove fine particles from the alcoholic liquid. These may also be the catalyst for the allergic reactions, rather than the alcohol itself.

Is Asian flush an alcohol allergy?

There are many sources that claim that mere facial flushing is not an alcohol allergy. There are also many sources that state that most doctors are incorrect in saying that Asian flush is not an alcohol allergy and that if you speak to a geneticist they will tell you that Asian flush is in actual fact an allergic reaction, albeit, a result of an enzyme deficiency.

Whatever the classification, it does seem that sufferers of Asian flush and alcohol allergy both experience similar side effects. Furthermore, it also seems that those side effects are a result of the alcohol break-down process whereby alcohol converts into acetaldehyde which is then transformed into vinegar.

A Cure?

Given the similarities, a cure for both Asian flush and alcohol allergy will be one that aids the process whereby the body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde and then into vinegar.

From a survey of various anecdotal accounts of using Pepcid AC as an alcohol allergy / flushing cure, it seems that the overwhelming verdict is that Pepcid AC on its own is not an Asian flush cure and something more than a mere antacid by itself is needed to truly cure the symptoms of Asian flush.