Alcohol & Asthma

Alcohol & Asthma
Alcohol & Asthma (Image:

Twenty million Americans have asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. Many asthmatics struggle to control their disease with prescription medications, and most rely on fast-acting inhalers for sudden attacks. However, more research shows that what patients eat and drink directly affects their condition. This is certainly true for alcoholic beverages.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung inflammation causing a person's airways to narrow. During an asthma attack, the smooth muscles in the bronchi become narrow further, and the airways inflame and swell, making breathing difficult. Without proper treatment, asthma is deadly, killing 3,613 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Is Alcohol Bad for Asthma?

Alcohol, doctors know, can trigger asthmatic attacks. In most instances, asthma attacks come within an hour of drinking alcoholic beverages, and generally the attacks are described by patients as moderate in nature.

Red and white wine appear to trigger more asthma attacks that other alcoholic beverages. In one study, lead by Dr. Philip J. Thompson of the Asthma and Allergy Research Institute of Perth, Australia, found those in which alcohol triggered asthmatic attacks, 92 percent said wine was the trigger and 30 percent said beer was to blame.


Doctors aren't certain why alcohol exacerbates asthma. Some suggest sulfites in wine and beer might be the cause, but Dr. Thompson says, "Wine has more than 400 molecules, any of which might contribute to the allergic reaction...Also, it is rarely all wines or all beers and tends to be only certain drinks."

Another theory is that alcohol can cause acid reflux, where stomach acids climb up the esophagus. In some cases, acid reflux can also make those acids go into breathing tubes at the rear of the throat, which in turn causes swelling that can aggravate asthma.

Other doctors remind patients that wine and beer arefermented drinks, which means they have many natural chemicals. Some of those chemicals are similar to histamine--the chemical our bodies make when we have an allergic reaction. For some asthmatics, these chemicals may increase symptoms of asthma.

All Alcohol Is Taboo?

According to Dr. Thompson's study, those who drank vodka, whiskey and brandy did not worsen their asthma. It is beer and wine that appear to affect asthmatics in a negative way.

Is Some Alcohol Good for Asthma?

For many years, alcohol was considered a good treatment for asthma. This was in part because asthma was considered a psychological condition, and alcohol can have a calming effect.

However, in 2001, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine published a study that claimed pure ethanol alcohol could be used as a treatment for asthma. Doctors point out the alcohol used in the study had no allergens or contaminants. Nonetheless, doctors stress that because this study contradicts other studies on alcohol and asthma, more research is needed.

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