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What Are The Reasons For Face Turning Red After Consuming Alcohol?

Topic Overview

Some people have a tendency to develop a distinct red face after consuming alcohol. This red colored face in medical terms is called as facial flushing. Some people may turn slightly red while others may have a deep red tinge to their face. Why what is the reason behind this color change and what does it signify has always been the question. This phenomenon is normally seen in people from East Asian descent to the tune of around 35% according to various studies done on this subject. It may also be accompanied by tachycardia and nausea. In layman’s terms, this facial flushing is termed as Asian Flush[1].

The reason behind this is believed to be a genetic trait in which the individual has a missing enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase-2. The missing enzyme is not only responsible for facial flushing but also increases the risk of an individual who drinks alcohol of developing potentially serious conditions like esophageal cancer. This risk is not apparent in people who have a normal functioning Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH-2) enzyme[1].

Thus it is important for people, especially of East Asian descent, to inform their physicians about redness of face after consuming alcohol as it will allow them to test for ALDH-2 enzyme deficiency and if found proper steps can be taken to prevent threats from disease like esophageal cancer. It also helps physicians to inform the patients about the increased risk of cancer due to alcohol consumption and to counsel them to avoid, if not abstain, from drinking alcohol[1].

Why does the face turns red when consuming alcohol can be explained by studying the chemistry involved in the breakdown of alcohol in people with ALDH-2 deficiency. This is also the reason behind people with ALDH-2 deficiency not being able to consume more alcohol than others. This article explains in detail as to what causes an individual to have a red face after consuming alcohol and whether it is dangerous to the overall health[1].

What Are The Reasons For Face Turning Red After Drinking Alcohol?

What Are The Reasons For Face Turning Red After Drinking Alcohol?

Generally speaking, if an individual develops a red face after drinking alcohol then it is a sign that the individual is sensitive to alcohol and the body is not able to tolerate it. This can happen with any alcoholic drink like wine, beer, or hard liquor. The explanation behind the face turning red after consuming alcohol lies behind the body’s ability to break down alcohol. After a drinking session, the body immediately starts to break down alcohol into its constituents as this makes it easier for the body to flush out the toxins from the body[2].

Among the various constituents of alcohol, acetaldehyde is a major toxin. The body of an individual who drinks in moderation finds it easy to break down acetaldehyde and flush it out. This however changes if an individual is a heavy drinker or is sensitive to alcohol. In such cases, the body is unable to break down all of the acetaldehyde which in turn starts to accumulate in the body. This causes the blood vessels to dilate and cause the face to become red[2].

This is where the ALDH-2 enzyme comes into picture. People with a normally functioning ALDH-2 enzyme are generally not sensitive to alcohol and facial flushing happens in such people only with heavy drinking. However in people with ALDH-2 deficiency, even a small amount of alcohol can result in the individual having a red face. This is because the lack of the ALDH-2 enzyme makes it extremely difficult for the body to break down acetaldehyde which leads to its accumulation and the response as mentioned above[2].

In some cases, along with facial flushing, there may also be nausea and tachycardia. In such people even drinking very less amount may be a nightmare which alerts them to drink less[2].

Coming to the safety aspect of the face turning red after consuming alcohol, while the facial flushing itself is not dangerous, it definitely increases the risk of certain other medical conditions like hypertension. In people who have deficiency of ALDH-2 enzyme, consuming alcohol increases the risk of the individual having esophageal cancer which has an incredibly high mortality rate all over the world[2].

A study done to compare the blood pressure in males of East Asian descent who consumed alcohol and who did not clearly showed that people who had facial flushing after consuming alcohol had high blood pressure compared to people who did not. This was despite taking into account other factors like age, gender, smoking history, and exercise routine[2].

The risk of hypertension rose significantly in people who drank more than four glasses of alcohol and had facial flushing. Comparatively, the risk of hypertension was minimal in people who did not have facial flushing unless they consumed more than 8 glasses of alcohol in a week[2].

Coming to prevention of facial flushing after consuming alcohol, if the individual is ALDH-2 deficient then it is impossible to prevent facial flushing. The only way that it can be prevented in such cases is by completely abstaining from alcohol. It will also cut down the risk for hypertension associated with alcohol consumption significantly[2].

There have been cases where people have used antihistamines to cut down the facial flushing. This is however ill advised by physicians. Instead, the individual can simply drink water as facial flushing is a sign of accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body and water can help break it down[2].

In conclusion, face turning red after consuming alcohol may be a harmless condition but it points towards an increased risk for developing other more serious diseases. First of all, it is a sign of aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 deficiency which is an important enzyme which breaks down the toxic component of alcohol. The deficiency of this enzyme causes acetaldehyde to accumulate in the body causing facial flushing[2].

The deficiency of ALDH-2 also puts the individual at risk for developing esophageal cancer which in most cases has a very poor prognosis. People who resort to medications to hide facial flushing may end up not addressing the root cause and thus remain at increased risk for developing various medical conditions arising out of alcohol consumption[2].

Thus it is recommended that people who are sensitive to alcohol or are ALDH-2 enzyme deficient should either completely abstain from alcohol or drink only in moderation. This advice in fact goes to all people who choose to drink as it can decrease their risk of developing various medical conditions that form a part of alcohol consumption[2].


Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 9, 2019

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