We have already on this blog talked about several health issues, and the impact that alcohol can have on them (including the menopause and your teeth). But even I was surprised when someone suggested an article about hay fever and drinking. As it happens I’m a long-time hay fever sufferer myself, and my first reaction was “what on earth does alcohol have to do with hay fever?” Well, quite a lot it turns out…
If you’re lucky enough never to have had hay fever, the main symptoms are sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes, caused by an allergic reaction to pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. The symptoms can occur from spring, throughout summer, into autumn, and can be mild or sometimes very severe. The NHS Live Well page gives five tips for reducing hay fever symptoms: reducing stress, doing more exercise, eating a healthy diet, sleeping well and – yes – drinking less alcohol.
So why is that? Well, alcohol worsens hay fever symptoms in two ways. First, alcoholic drinks (beer, wine and spirits) all contain histamine. This is the chemical that triggers allergic reactions. According to some, wine can double the risk of allergic symptoms. A study of Danish women found that the more they drank, the more likely they were to develop perennial hay fever (where the symptoms occur throughout the year, not just in spring/summer). Having more than fourteen alcoholic drinks per week nearly doubled the likelihood of ending up with this type of constant hay fever.
Secondly, as well as containing histamine, alcohol can also make you more sensitive to the pollens, thus incresing the allergic reaction. And it will most certainly dehydrate you, which makes the symptoms seem even worse than they are.
There is a clear connection between hay fever and alcohol then, but are some drinks better than others? Yes they are. If you do drink, you may want to think about what type of alcohol you have. Spirits like vodka, whiskey, gin and rum have less histamine than beers, ciders and wines. Red wine seems to be particularly high in histamine, so may be best avoided at the times when you suffer from hay fever symptoms.
So there we are. Another health issue that is made worse by drinking. As spring is the worst season for many hay fever sufferers (including me), I will gladly hear of anything that can make the symptoms feel at least a little bit less horrible. A-choo!