Alcohol red face can happen to some people after a single alcoholic drink. Some drinkers do not experience a red face until they have consumed several drinks. The red glow that generally starts in the face and can spread down the neck and even onto the upper arms is called Alcohol Flush Reaction by scientists. Other common names are Asian Flush and Alcohol Red Face. The rapid flush response to alcohol is genetically based, so it does not happen to everyone. Many people associate the red face reaction with alcohol addiction because it is usually part of an overall allergic reaction to alcohol.
Alcohol Red Face
Typical Symptoms That Accompany Red Face
The alcohol red face is the most visible symptom of an Alcohol Flush Reaction. People who suffer from red faces also experience other less noticeable symptoms when they drink. The red face is typically accompanied by a drop in blood pressure, which can make the person feel dizzy or excessively drowsy. Their face may begin to swell as it fills with color, and their pulses tend to race wildly. Red face sufferers generally develop painful headaches if they continue to drink once the reaction has started. They might also feel fatigued or exhausted once they begin to show symptoms. In some cases, alcohol red face can cause vomiting as the body tries to remove the alcohol from its system as quickly as possible.
The Science Behind the Reaction
Alcohol red face is a genetic disorder that is caused by a missing enzyme. People who are lacking this enzyme do not have the ability to properly break down alcohol once it hits their system. In a normal drinker, the alcohol is quickly converted to a substance called acetaldehyde, which is quickly broken down into carbon dioxide, sugars, and fats by the digestive system. People who suffer from red face are missing the enzyme that breaks down the acetaldehyde, so this toxic substance is allowed to flow through the body and cause irritation. Something called an erythema causes the capillaries in your face and neck to dilate, which gives you the bright red glow. While red face is uncomfortable, it is not as dangerous as a true allergy to alcohol. Doctors tend to refer to the red face syndrome as alcohol sensitivity rather than an alcohol allergy. Allergic reactions are far more severe and can include seizures or convulsions after even limited exposure to alcohol.
Larger Proportion of Asians Experience Red Face
Due to the genetic aspect of Alcohol Flush Reaction, the symptoms are noticeably more prominent in certain genetic groups of people. The red face syndrome can happen to anyone, but Asians suffer from these symptoms almost 50% more than other groups. The high occurrence in Asians is one of the reasons the red face syndrome has picked up the name Asian Flush. People from Eastern Asia are the most susceptible to alcohol red face, but all Asians have a greater chance of flushing when they drink.
Possible Link Between Red Face and Cancer
Recent research has shown that people who develop red faces when they drink alcohol have a statistically higher chance of developing esophageal cancer. The cancer risk is related to the exposure to acetaldehyde, which is known to cause damage to DNA. People who suffer from Alcohol Flush Reaction and continue to drink are as much as 10 times more likely to develop cancer compared to those who do not develop red faces. The typical five year survival rate for someone with esophageal cancer is between 12% and 15%.
Antacids Might Help Reduce Symptoms
Many people claim that antacids like Pepcid or Zyrtec can bring instant relief from alcohol red face. Although the results are mixed, there may be some scientific support for the idea of antacids helping with red face symptoms. Antacids help reduce the amount of gastric acid in the stomach, which in turn slows down the body’s rate of metabolizing alcohol into the system. When the process is slowed down enough, the acetaldehyde that is produced in the stomach can be converted to vinegar before it is sent out into the system. Antacids have not been proven to help in all cases of red face, but they do work for some people. Since antacids are medication, be sure to consult a doctor before using them.
Antihistamines Reduce Reaction for Some
Some antihistamines have also been said to bring relief to red face sufferers, though not as reliably as antacids. The antihistamines help open up the blood vessels and reduce swelling that accompanies red face reactions. Since red face is not a strictly allergic reaction, antihistamines can not provide complete relief from symptoms. Different people will have different reactions to antihistamine use depending on how their individual red face syndrome presents itself.
Moderating Intake is Best Approach
Probably the best way to continue drinking alcohol after you have discovered that you suffer from alcohol red face is to do so in moderation. Understand that your body does not break down alcohol in a healthy way, and limit how much you drink at a time. It is possible to enjoy a glass or two on an occasional basis, but you will be far more comfortable if you do not drink alcohol to excess. Try to drink at a slower pace so that you reduce the amount of acetaldehyde that is in your system at any given time.
Alcohol Red Face – The Conclusion
Avoiding Alcohol is the Only Guaranteed Cure
The only way to completely get rid of alcohol red face is to stop drinking altogether. Since this is a genetic disorder, there is nothing you can do to change your body’s enzymes so that it breaks down alcohol in a healthier manner. Cutting out alcohol will guarantee that you never suffer the discomfort of alcohol flush symptoms. It will also reduce your chances of developing cancer because it is the toxic acetaldehyde that leads to esophageal cancer in people who develop red faces when they drink. Alcohol red face does not mean you have to stop drinking, but it will continue to happen as long as you consume alcohol.