Drinking and drugs

Information and advice for a parent or carer of a young adult living with allergy.

Parent of an 18 to 25 year old

Your young person has now reached the legal age to drink and smoke. Here are some key facts about how alcohol and drugs affect allergy. Discuss these with your young person to help them stay safe when exposed to these substances.

Alcohol, allergic reactions and symptoms

  • Alcohol intake can worsen allergy symptoms as it acts as a suppressant on the immune system.  This stops the immune system being as effective at helping to deal with the effects of an allergic reaction.
  • Alcohol affects the way the body processes medicines, so caution is needed when taking medication and drinking.
  • Alcohol can make antihistamines less effective at helping to relieve symptoms. Alcohol also can increase the sedative effect of sedating antihistamines (like chlorpheniramine), making people more sleepy and uncoordinated.  This can be very dangerous.
  • Alcohol intolerance can sometimes cause worsening of conditions such as asthma, urticaria and rhinitis because it opens up the blood vessels. Sensitive people may get a stuffy nose, skin flushes, headaches and feel wheezy.
  • Alcohol can affect how you think, so your young person may not initially recognise an allergic reaction and consume more of the allergen.

Alcohol and food allergies

  • Alcohol also may contain traces of food allergens.  It’s always a good idea to check the labels before drinking.  For example, some wines and champagne contain cow’s milk, egg or fish.  Similarly, beer and lager can contain wheat, barley, fish or fruit whilst spirits can also contain allergens such as fruits, seeds and nuts.  In addition, cocktails can also be cross-contaminated by other drink ingredients.  Most alcoholic drinks contain sulphites. Studies show low risk of anaphylaxis, but if your young person is very sensitive to low amounts of these allergens, it might trigger a reaction.

Smoking and Drugs

  • Sharing cigarettes or e-cigarettes can pose a cross-contamination risk with food allergens.
  • Allergic reactions to vaping have occasionally been reported to the ingredient propylene glycol, but it’s uncommon.
  • Long term smoking affects lung function and asthma control. The research on vaping is currently not well understood.
  • Allergies to prescribed medication are well documented but allergies to recreational drugs can also happen.
  • There are a few case reports that have shown the illegal drug cannabis may cause reactions for people who have lipid transfer protein allergy, often linked to severe reactions to fruit and vegetables.
  • Like alcohol, drugs can also can affect how you think, so your young person may not initially recognise an allergic reaction and consume more of the allergen.

Due to the increased risk of an allergic reaction that can sometimes come with young people socialising with alcohol and drugs, wearing a medical bracelet or carrying a card detailing their allergies when going out and/or when they are exposed to these substances is a good idea. This is because should they have a severe reaction whilst out socialising, this will help paramedics understand their condition and administer the necessary medical care more promptly.

Additional Resources

Reactions to Alcohol

Reactions to Alcohol

It is not unusual to experience allergy-like symptoms following ingestion of alcohol. The reaction can be very specific, for example to a certain type of wine, or can be caused by different types of alcohol...

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