9 Signs You May Be Intolerant To Red Wine

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If you can happily sip a glass of merlot all evening long without experiencing any unpleasant side effects, then you're likely in the clear as far as an allergy to red wine goes. But the sad news is, for some folks, this delightful beverage can leave them feeling a little worse for wear — and sometimes even in danger.

Unpleasant side effects may be due to an allergy to alcohol in general, which can lead to some of the scarier symptoms, while others may stem from an intolerance to the components of wine specifically. And they can all cause different reactions. "In general an allergy causes an immune response whereas a sensitivity may cause a digestive response," triple board-certified physician Monisha Bhanote, MD, FASCP, FCAP, tells Bustle. Allergic reactions include breaking out in hives, coughing, and asthma-like symptoms, which is why a "true allergy can be life threatening," Dr. Bhanote says.

If you experience allergic symptoms after drinking wine, let your doctor know. "People are genetically predisposed to a real allergy and only an allergist can tell for sure," Dr. Nancy Simpkins tells Bustle. But as for sensitivities or intolerances, you may be able to spot those yourself.

"The sensitivity is actually more common than having an allergy," Dr. Bhanote says. "However, you can also have digestive symptoms with the allergy and you can also have runny nose and hives as a sensitivity symptoms. There is much overlap with the presentation of symptoms but the actually mechanism of action is different." With that in mind, read on for some signs and symptoms that mean red wine doesn't agree with you, according to experts.

1. Headaches

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"Some people are intolerant to red wine and not really allergic," Dr. Simpkins says. "An example is people frequently get headaches from the histamines in red wine."

If you are "histamine intolerant," you might develop some allergy-like symptoms after drinking wine, as it contains this compound. Along with headaches, you might also experience nasal congestion, hives, and digestive issues in response to the histamines.

2. Facial Flushing

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If you're allergic to red wine, one of the biggest giveaways will be facial flushing, or a pinkish color that develops on your face as you drink. "This occurs due to the tannins in wine and can be very uncomfortable," Dr. Nancy Simpkins says. Tannins are another substance found in red wine that can trigger symptoms in some people.

3. Hives

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"Some people will actually develop a rash, hives, [or] itchiness," Dr. Simpkins says. "This reaction usually occurs from the skin of the grape used to make the wine. If any of this signs or symptoms occur, talk to your doctor and [...] avoid red wine until you see an allergist." This is most likely an allergic reaction, and not something you want to take lightly.

4. Digestive Issues

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The tannins found in red wine can also lead to digestive troubles like stomachaches, nausea, and diarrhea. As registered dietician Vanessa Rissetto tells Bustle, "If you’re allergic to tannins, coffee, tea, and dark chocolate would cause similar issues."

5. Sneezing

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"Those who suffer from sulfite intolerance experience symptoms similar to asthma and allergic rhinitis (sneezing, itchiness, blocked or runny nose)," Rissetto says. Sulfites are preservatives found in some foods, including wine, that can trigger these allergy-like reactions.

6. Difficulty Breathing

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Allergic symptoms can include things like itching and hives, as mentioned above, as well as shortness of breath, Dr. Bhanote says. This can be a symptom of other health issues, though, so the only real way to know if an allergy is to blame is by getting an allergy test from your doctor.

7. Trouble Swallowing

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"Sulfites have been known to cause hives, vomiting, and trouble swallowing," Dr. Bhanote says, which are all signs of an allergic reaction.

But there are other ingredients found in wine that can be to blame for symptoms like these. "Other lesser known allergens in wine but common allergens overall include casein, egg whites, and chitosan," Dr. Bhanote says.

8. Dizziness

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As Dr. Bhanote says, dizziness is yet another symptom of an allergic reaction. Of course, it can also occur if you've had too much to drink. But for folks who are allergic to alcohol, lightheadedness can happen after just a few sips.

9. Cramping

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Again, wine can include other ingredients that may lead to sensitivities, including egg whites, chitosan, and even gluten, Dr. Bhanote says. So if you experience cramping after drinking a glass or two, it may be a sign one of these ingredients was included in the production process. "Sulfites, egg whites, chitosan, and casein are all know products that cause allergic reactions," she says.

If you don't feel well after drinking red wine, it can be tough to tell if it's due to an allergic reaction or a sensitivity. "This is usually tested with an elimination diet, a food/drink diary, or an allergy test," Dr. Bhanote says. "However, there is no exact science so these can be misleading." The best thing to do may be to avoid red wine altogether, until you figure out what's to blame for your symptoms.