Wine intolerances: allergy, sulphites, headaches and breathing difficulties

Posted on July 27, 2016 by Dimitri Safonov | 0 comments

Wine allergy, sulphite free wines, wine intolerance, symptoms

Wine and health is a very important topic that we want to cover more. We have started covering this with our article on 'Why drinking less but better wine?', where we discuss calories in wine, how many units are in a glass or bottle of wine and provide some tips on better drinking habits, some actions you can take towards a healthier drinking. Have a look and let us know what you think! 

This time it is about wine intolerances including sulphites and allergies.

I consider myself as a person who can be allergic to a few things. I hate pollen, need to take hay fever meds and try to avoid drinking dairy. The latter was actually recommended to me by a friend pharmacist after I’ve complained about having sore throat far too often. After I switched to almond milk for my coffees and shakes I started to see the effect.

So as they say knowledge is power an hence I also wanted to share with you my findings about wine intolerances. We will start with what are they, move on to symptoms and then how to deal with it. As I also want to make it concise, we stop at that point, but I will attach some more information an sources for those who want to dig deeper. I have searched through tons of articles in UK, Canadian, Australian and US press, allergy related bodies and health associations, so you have a wealth of information.

Let’s start.

What are wine intolerances? Sulphite sensitivity symptoms.

Based on Oxford Companion to Wine, there is a major difference between an allergy which is an immunological condition and intolerances, which are of other causes.

So wine allergy can occur because of proteinaceous compounds. Traces of protein can remain in wine after fermentation, so are those occurring after fining when specific agents were used to clarify and stabilise the wine.

Apart from that, there is also a pollen-food allergy factor - some pollens can still remain in fruit skins and this can cause a reaction that can be described as oral itching.

Somewhere in the borderline of allergies and intolerances are biogenic amines histamine and tyramine, which are produced by lactic acid bacteria and higher levels of those are present in red wines. People suffer from headaches and refer to it as red wine intolerance.

If we move to white wines, the main factor for an intolerance here is sulphur dioxide, or sulphites / sulfites. Asthmatics are especially sensitive to those.

Sulphite-free case of organic winesBoth red and white wines contain sulphites as it is a by product of fermentation, yet naturally occurring sulphites are not exceeding 10 mg /l and will not in most cases be noticed even by asthmatics. If they are added and the concentration is below 45 mg/l it is fine for most of people and will not cause intolerances, yet with a higher concentration (can go way above 100 and 150 mg/l) there can be some issues. Main symptoms are creating difficulties, airway irritation, rhinitis, tight chest, coughing and wheezing. Some digestive issues and symptoms were reported as stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhoea. The incidence of sulphite sensitivity in the general population is thought to be less than 2%, but this rises to between 5 and 13% in asthmatics. However, adverse reactions to sulfites can also occur when there is no preceding history of asthma. Reactions can be mild through to potentially life threatening.

How to deal with sulphite intolerance or wine allergy

sulphite freeThere is no such thing as a treatment, but if you feel that you might have (or diagnosed with) sulphite intolerance you should start avoiding of sulphite-containing foods, medicines and cosmetics. The degree to which this must be done depends on how sensitive you are. For many it will only mean to avoid foods with the highest sulphite content; others with more severe sensitivity will need to be very particular in avoiding even trace amounts in foods, medicines and cosmetics.

Symptoms arising from exposure to sulphites are treated according to the symptoms (e.g. anti-histamines or steroids for rashes, inhalers for asthma).

If you are sensitive to sulphites, the most important thing is to know how to treat your symptoms and be able to do so when, for example, you are eating away from home.

In the UK sulphites are now one of the twelve potential allergens (along with the likes of peanuts, fish, crustaceans, gluten and milk) that have to be labelled on a food or drink product - where they appear at a certain concentration or above. Warnings are now common on products such as wine or cider - yet in practice there is still a huge amount of ignorance and misinformation about their use and the health problems they can cause.

Sulphites in wine

sulphite-free winesStay in the know and if you are indeed sensitive to sulphites buy sulphite-free products.  
Sulphite-free wines - why do some of them have 'contains sulphites' on the label? All wines contain naturally occurring sulphites, but the levels are very low - up to 20 mg/l. By law only the wines that contain less than 10 mg/l do not need include that on the label. We have referenced all wines and the ones that are listed as sulphite-free or no sulphite added have less than 20 mg/l of sulphites. People who suffer from intolerances start noticing it when concentration exceeds 45 mg/l only. 

Please refer to our short memo on differences between organic, vegan, natural and strictly no added sulphites wines if you want to learn more. 

For our ever expanding best selling collection of sulphite free wines - click here.


It is also agreed that the true prevalence of sulphite sensitivity in the general population is not known and the real causes are very complex. More research is needed, but in the meantime please also find other products that you may want to check the labels for sulphite concentration (apart from wine).

Foods which may contain added sulphites include:

  • pickled foods and vinegar
  • dried fruit eg dried apricots, prunes, raisins etc
  • maraschino cherries
  • tinned coconut milk
  • beer and cider
  • vegetable juices
  • some soft drinks
  • grape juice
  • bottled lemon juice and lime juice
  • condiments (bottled sauces etc.)
  • guacamole
  • dehydrated, pre-cut or peeled potatoes
  • fresh or frozen prawns
  • some processed meat products

Posted in sulphite-free


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