Watch out for Beer Allergy

Beer drinking goes hand in hand with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, but beer is not for everybody. Some people have allergic reactions to ingredients found in beer. Symptoms could range from hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can lead to swelling, hives, wheezing, low blood pressure, and even cardiac arrest.

Beer Allergy

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Beer-making Process

Beer is made by breaking down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, which are then fermented. Common carbohydrates used in the manufacture of beer include malted cereal grains like barley or wheat. Starting agents could also include corn, rice, potato, and rye. Hops are added to the brew as a natural preservative. Hops are responsible for the bitter taste in beer. Brewer’s yeast is added to the mix to start the fermentation process.

Causes of Allergic Reaction

Here are a couple possible reactions to beer:

  • Accumulation of acetaldehyde – Acetaldehyde accumulation occurs when people are not able to metabolize alcohol due to a mutation in the genes that code for the protein alcohol dehydrogenase. Symptoms include redness, nausea, and an increased heart rate. This condition is particularly common among people of Asian descent.
  • Allergy – Alcohol, being a simple compound, cannot generate IgE antibodies that lead to allergic reactions. Immunoglobulin E or IgE is an antibody found in mammals. When a person has allergy, the immune system overreacts to the allergen by producing this type of antibody.

Beer Allergy

Though the alcohol itself may not cause an allergy, ingredients in the beer certainly can. These include proteins found in wheat or barley or in the modified grain protein (known as malt extract).

There is no reported case of an allergic reaction to the hops in beer. There are, however, reports of allergies among farmers who pick hops in the field. The allergies are caused by skin contact with hops, but not by drinking beer.

Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you have a beer allergy. Since different beer products include different ingredients, you may be able to switch to a new type of beer without having the same negative reactions.