Alcohol Reactions with Asthma Linked to Aspirin

in Asthma
Sulfites in food and drink, such as red wine, can cause allergy-like reactions.
Photo: Getty

Asthma symptoms and respiratory reactions from wine and alcohol have long been a mystery, but research now sheds some light on why they occur.

Researchers have discovered that most adults with asthma who are sensitive to Aspirin also get mild to severe respiratory symptoms when drinking alcohol.

Dr. Tanya Laidlaw, of the allergic disease research center at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains the condition Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, or AERD. The condition involves three things: asthma, nasal polyps and a sensitivity to Aspirin (and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS). AERD affects 10 to 20 percent of those with adult asthma.

3/4 Have Asthma Symptoms with Aspirin, Alcohol

Laidlaw’s research team has found that “three-quarters of all AERD patients do have respiratory reactions when they drink alcohol. For many of them, it’s within several sips of a single glass.”

Seventy-four percent were found to react to alcohol with an upper respiratory reaction, such as a runny nose or congestion. That compared to 34 percent of a group with asthma who tolerate Aspirin.

Lower respiratory reactions, such as sometimes severe wheezing and shortness of breath, occurred in 51 percent of AERD patients after drinking alcohol. This compared to 24 percent of the Aspirin-tolerant asthmatics.

Patients themselves initially raised the alcohol association. Laidlaw says patients at the AERD clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital were often mentioning symptoms when they drank alcohol. Their symptoms included wheezing and coughing, signs of an asthma attack.

“They began asking: ‘Did we know why it was that when they had a glass of wine or a couple of beers, they would have a very similar and often very severe respiratory reaction to the alcohol,’” she told Allergic Living.

Early Signs of Wine, Asthma Reactions

Laidlaw and her colleagues found these observations intriguing and decided this warranted study. The Brigham and Women’s center collaborated with the Scripps respiratory clinic in San Diego to send out a survey study to four groups. The surveyed included: diagnosed AERD patients, patients who had asthma but are aspirin tolerant, patients with chronic sinusitis who don’t have asthma, and healthy patients with no asthma or sinus issues.

Among the patients reacting to alcohol, red wine emerged as the most likely to provoke symptoms (29 percent of patients), followed by beer (9 percent) and white wine or liquor (6 percent). However, for half of the patients, any kind of alcohol triggered symptoms.

Laidlaw notes that many AERD patients have had to stop drinking alcohol. The researchers are also examining the mechanisms through which alcohol triggers such symptoms. Laidlaw says the relationship should also be useful in diagnosing AERD, a condition that’s not always obvious. This is because sensitivity to Aspirin can be mild and overlooked.

Related Reading:
What Causes Your Reaction to Alcohol?
Food Allergy and Alcohol: How to Socialize Without Brewing Up Trouble