How Does Alcohol Affect Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory disorder in which the airways of the individual become narrow making it difficult for the person to breathe. The symptoms of asthma can be mild to severe where the patient needs emergent medical attention. An asthma attack can be triggered due to variety of causes. These causes vary from individual to individual depending on the sensitivity of the individual to various environmental and other allergens. Among the various allergens that are known to cause an asthma attack, a study has found an association of alcohol with asthma.[1]

Since there is no cure for asthma, avoiding triggers is the best way to prevent asthma flare up. To study the effects of alcohol on asthma, a study was conducted to understand the effects of alcohol on asthmatics. For this, 150 patients with asthma were selected. Among the people selected, around 30% of people admitted to some form of alcohol making their asthma worse of which the most common triggers were beer and whiskey.[1]

Around 23% of people stated that beer and whiskey made their symptoms of asthma better, especially if they had a severe exacerbation. Overall, 47% of participants admitted that alcohol affected their asthma symptoms in some form or the other. This clearly indicated that alcohol definitely had an influence on asthma symptoms. This article explains how alcohol actually affects asthma.[1]

How Does Alcohol Affect Asthma?

How Does Alcohol Affect Asthma?

When it comes to concrete scientific evidence, there is not much to speak about here with regard to the link between alcohol and asthma other than a study which was published way back in 2000 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study was conducted in Australia and involved 350 participants with known diagnosis of asthma. They were asked to fill out questionnaire on the various triggers that exacerbated their symptoms that were related to alcohol.[2]

The findings of the study stated that alcohol was responsible for an asthma flare up at least twice in about 33% of participants. Among the various forms of alcohol, wine was believed to be the most common allergen that triggered the symptoms of asthma. The study also found out that the symptoms of asthma exacerbated within an hour of consuming alcohol. The severity of the symptoms was considered to be mild to moderate.[2]

The reason given behind this exacerbation according to scientists was the presence of histamines and sulfites in alcoholic beverages which could have been the major contributing factor in exacerbation of symptoms. Sulfites are widely used in making beer and wine but at times they are also used in making other alcoholic beverages. Majority of people with asthma are extremely sensitive to sulfites.[2]

With regard to histamines, it is produced during fermentation of alcohol. Thus histamine is a common component in all forms of alcohol including beer, whiskey, and wine. However, whether histamine plays a role in the development of symptoms is not entirely clear even though it is a common trigger for asthma symptoms. The study conducted in 2000 is by far the only study that highlights the effects of alcohol on asthma. Thus there is a need for more research to find out more about the association of alcohol and asthma.[2]

However, most researchers are of the opinion that alcohol does contribute to asthma even though it may be an indirect involvement. Another potential contributing factor to asthma is stress. An individual who is excessively stressed often turns to alcohol for some sort of relief but alcohol in fact worsens the stress and thus may lead to an exacerbation of asthma symptoms. There are certain other complications that arise due to asthma which include inability to sleep, exercise, and inability to do daily tasks at school or work.[2]

If alcohol worsens these complications then there is a high likelihood that the asthma symptoms will worsen. Another theory with regard to alcohol and asthma suggests that ingredients present in wine can trigger an asthma attack; however, there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. In case if an individual thinks that his or her asthma symptoms get worse due to alcohol then he or she must identify the exact drink or beverage that causes a flare and try and avoid it.[2]

In the study mentioned above, majority of the participants admitted to wine as being the major exacerbating factor of asthma symptoms among all forms of alcoholic beverages. Presence of sulfites can also exacerbate the symptoms of asthma and thus beverages which contain it should be avoided in asthmatics. Additionally, the amount of alcohol that an asthmatic drinks also plays a role in determining how severe the flare of asthma would be.[2]

As an example, if a glass of wine or beer does not result in any reaction but a reaction occurs after having three or four glasses then it can be said that the presence of allergen in the drink is only in minimal amounts and it is safe for the individual to have a couple of drinks. However, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether especially if an individual has asthma to prevent any unwarranted exacerbations or visits to the emergency room for treatment.[2]

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