Does Alcohol Trigger Asthma?

Mmmm, beer! I love beer. There’s nothing better than ending the day with an ice-cold one. But, sometimes I like to have more than just one. And when I do, sometimes I experience asthma symptoms the next day. So, this got me to wondering: Is it possible alcohol triggers asthma symptoms?” Let’s investigate.

How alcohol may affect asthma

Alcohol contains allergens

Some alcoholic beverages contain preservatives. Sulfites are a common preservative used in beer and wine. Some people with asthma may develop an allergy to sulfites. So, alcohol can trigger both allergy and asthma symptoms.1

This seems to be the most well-accepted theory linking alcohol with asthma. I have found ample articles describing it. But, I’m not convinced I have an allergy to beer.

Alcohol contains histamine

Histamine is a mediator of inflammation. This means that it may cause airway inflammation. It’s naturally released during the asthma and allergy responses. Our bodies also make an enzyme called diamine oxidase DAO. This enzyme metabalizes or breaks down histamine. It prevents histamine levels from getting too high.2

More on this topic

But, 1% of people are histamine intolerant. This means they don’t have enough DAO to break down histamine. So, what does this have to do with alcohol?

Well, alcohol contains histamine. When you drink you are adding histamine to your system. If you have ample supplies of DAO, no problem. But, if you’re histamine intolerant, histamine may build-up in your system. When this happens it may trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.2

I suppose this could cause my asthma symptoms the day after, but I'm still not convinced.

Alcohol causes dehydration

On the surface, this theory might seem a little odd. I mean, beer, wine, and other beverages are drinks. They contain mostly water. So, you’d think they would hydrate you. Right?

Well, if you drink, you’ve probably noticed that it makes you pee. Researchers say that for every 200 ml of alcohol you consume, you pee out 320 ml.2-3 Therefore, if you consume enough alcohol, it can dehydrate you. So, why is this important?

How dehydration contributes to asthma symptoms

The part of our bodies responsible for regulating our hydration is called the hypothalamus. It’s responsible for homeostasis, or maintaining a state of normalcy inside your body. One hormone produced by the hypothalamus is vasopressin, also known as anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). I like this name because it pretty much tells you what the hormone does: it prevents you from peeing.3-6

So, your hypothalamus is constantly checking the water levels of blood. If blood water levels are low, this means you’re dehydrated. The hypothalamus makes more ADH and releases that ADH into your bloodstream. The ADH attaches to ADH receptors in your kidneys and tells your kidneys to put water back into your bloodstream. So, this mechanism causes your body to conserve water. It helps to re-hydrate you.3-5

Now, let’s get back to alcohol. Alcohol suppresses ADH. So, now your hypothalamus is making less ADH. This causes low ADH levels. So, this makes alcohol a diuretic. Alcohol makes you pee. Therefore, too much alcohol consumption can make you dehydrated. It’s this dehydration that causes your hangover symptoms the next day. It might also trigger asthma. 3-5

The science I explained here is well accepted. But, there is not much evidence linking dehydration to asthma. But there is some, and this includes a link between histamine and dehydration. So, if you’re into theories, you may enjoy my post, “Links Between Dehydration And Asthma.”

Can I drink alcohol if I have asthma?

First and foremost, keep in mind these are all just theories. If you think that consuming alcohol may be triggering your asthma, talk to your doctor to discuss further. This certainly makes for an interesting discussion topic, and it’s something to keep in mind if you like to drink.

Tsck… pshh… fwshhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhh.

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