Tracy’s romantic evening took a turn for the worse. She was enjoying a lovely Italian dinner with her boyfriend when she suddenly started wheezing. She quickly set down her wine glass and reached for her inhaler. The medicine started working, but not before Tracy began to worry the attack could be life-threatening. Her asthma had been under control for months. What happened?
The Secret Ingredients
Tracey is among the 25 million Americans who have asthma. This is a condition which causes your airways to narrow and swell. It results in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
Like many people with asthma, Tracy was unaware of the effects alcohol can have on her condition. It was likely the glasses of wine she had with dinner that triggered her asthma attack.
Researchers suggest two components of alcoholic beverages may contribute to asthma attacks:
- Sulfites are a preservative often found in wine and beer.
- Histamines are chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. (Allergy medications are called antihistamines.) They are produced naturally in your body; they’re also found in some food and drink, such as alcohol.
People with asthma are often sensitive to the effects of sulfites. The preservative can trigger asthma symptoms. Histamine, which is found in all types of alcohol, may also cause asthma issues. Since histamines are naturally allergy-inducing, they can also trigger asthma symptoms.
Catching Your Breath
Those with asthma know this condition can be anything from a minor annoyance to a life-threatening illness. Understanding the potential effects of alcohol is essential. If you have asthma and are sensitive to sulfites and/or histamines, approach alcohol with caution. Be aware of any types of drinks that seem to trigger your symptoms.
One study found that wine seems to be the most allergenic alcoholic beverage. Those with asthma might do better with organic wines, which do not have preservatives added. Or it might be wise to avoid wines and beers altogether, since these usually contain sulfites.
Another option is to carefully limit alcohol intake. Drink only one type of alcohol per day, to minimize chances of an attack. Drink in low volumes, which will also reduce the risk. (Tracy may have been okay with one glass of wine, but the second may have pushed her sulfite limit over the edge.)
Of course, choosing non-alcoholic beverages would be the safest and surest route to avoid an alcohol-related asthma attack. Each person who lives with this condition must weigh the options and decide what’s best for their health.
As for Tracy, she’ll be sipping Perrier on her next date.
Additional Reading: This is NOT a Drill: Alcohol Causes 7 Kinds of Cancer
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