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Alcohol Consumption

We all know that smoking triggers asthma but may not realize alcohol or alcoholic beverages can do the same.

Alcohol may help us relax but it is wrong to believe that it can dilate the airways and treat mild asthma attacks. However, some believe this is so and have a drink instead of medicine.

Other than pure alcohol, there are many different substances in alcoholic beverages which act as triggers.

Red wine is one of the examples. It has more than 400 molecules, including grape protein and protein added during the filtering process. Moreover, histamine is produced during fermentation and sulfites are added as preservatives. All these are allergens and can triggers allergic reactions. Alcohol dilates blood vessels, and can further enhance the absorption of these allergens to produce reactions such as stuffy nose, cough or wheeze after a drink in allergic or asthmatic patients.

These side effects can be caused not only by red and white wine, but also champagne, port, spirit, cocktail or medicated wine. Some patients may have an attack a few hours after the drink while some the following day, and the severity of the attacks varies. Patients may not be aware of the causality and seldom mention such history to doctors or when they seek emergency help.

To add, many Asian people have an enzyme deficiency. Alcohol cannot be broken down effectively to “vinegar”, a less harmful compound. Instead, the accumulation of intermediate metabolites will shift and lead to the production of histamine, a mediator of allergic reactions. It is more common for us than for westerners to have asthmatic attack after drinking. In the western population, “wine-induced asthma” occurs in around one third of asthmatics but the in Asians, the incidence rise to 50%. It is important to note that, those asthmatics without history of “wine-induced asthma” before may not be immune to subsequent attacks.

It may be trendy to have a taste of wine, whether for the old or young, boys or girls. In winter, beer or other alcoholic drinks may go well with hot pots. But if you are an asthma patient, be careful with wine or alcoholic beverages as they may trigger an asthma attack.