Q: I’m a university student with food allergies. I’ve heard that if you accidentally eat a food with your allergen while also drinking alcohol, your allergic reaction will be worse. Why would that happen?
Dr. Sicherer: “Co-factor enhanced food allergy” is a term used to describe a situation where a food- allergic reaction is worse or only occurs if there is an additional factor present. The three most common co-factors are: exercise, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs, including aspirin and ibuprofen), and alcohol.
In a series of 74 cases of suspected co-factor related food allergy, alcohol was the co-factor 12 percent of the time. It is not certain why these relationships occur.
One theory is that these co-factors increase absorption of proteins from the gut into the bloodstream, which may lead to an allergic reaction that would otherwise not have occurred. Whether a reaction happens with the co-factor varies depending upon the allergen, the amount of it consumed, and the person’s degree of sensitivity.
Not all allergic individuals are susceptible to these co-factors. However, at university when eating dining hall or takeout foods, it’s especially important to check ingredients so that you always avoid your allergens in the first place.
Dr. Scott Sicherer is Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Together with Dr. Hemant Sharma, Associate Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, he writes “The Food Allergy Experts” column in the American Edition of Allergic Living magazine. Questions submitted below will be considered for answer in the magazine.