Asthma UK community forum

red wine allergy

Hi guys, a bit of advice if you please!

I'm allergic to red wine and I was wondering, does that mean I'd be allergic to rose wine too? Everyone seems to be going mad for it at the moment, but I'm currently too scared to try it just in case. I think it's made with red grapes, but white wine making methods are used, and I can't work out if it's the red grapes or something they use in the red wine making methods that I'm allergic to, and without trying rose ( and with current state of lungs yet again, I don't really want to try unless I'm fairly sure I woudn't be allergic), I'm not sure how I'd know.

Anyone got any ideas?

Thanks in advance!

Cal xx

18 Replies

It's usually the sulphites in the wine that set the asthma off. I've always been bad with red wine and haven't been able to have it for years, and rose I found to be much the same. White wines also contain sulphites though they appear to be in lower concentrations in some wines. Some companies do low-sulphite wines but I'm told that sulphites are a natural by-product of the fermentation process in wine making. However, one company I know of - (very, very lovely wines) - have told me that they use tiny amounts of sulphites that disappear after 3 weeks of bottling. I am highly allergic to sulphites, have reacted horrendously to wines in the past, but have been fine with Celtic Wines. They have a website but you have to print the order form off and post it in. They're based in Wales but have a flat delivery charge and are well worth the extra cost. Wine without allergy or death is always a bonus in my opinion.



Hi Becky,

Many red wines in fact are a bit lower in sulphites than whites as the latter need to be preserved for freshness.

We also offer no sulphites added wines, many of them are below 10 mg/l, so undetectable (

Hope it helps!



Becky, I presume you try to exclude all dietary sulphites, and if so, how much of a hassle is it?

I ask because I react to one particular brand of hydrocortisone, Efcortesol, which is the brand which GPs often carry because it comes premixed in a liquid from. I get vomiting, urticaria and worsening bronchospasm, not ideal when you're already having an asthma attack! I'm fine with Solu-Cortef, another brand of hydrocortisone, and after doing some research I discovered that Efcortesol contains formaldehyde sodium bisulphite as a preservative. I now carry a supply of Solu-Cortef so that I always have a brand of hydrocortisone with me that I can safely have.

When I'm a bit more stable (ha! - ironic laugh) I'm going to ask my consultant to test me in a blinded trial to see if I really am reacting to Efcortesol, and if it proves to be true I might have to seriously start thinking about excluding dietary sulphites as well, but a little bit of online research suggests that that might be really quite difficult! Any thoughts/suggestions?

Incidentally, both Epipen and Anapen also contain formaldehyde sodium bisulphite as a preservative, as do several other drugs that have to remain stable as a liquid for some time. A bit worrying, although I presume the effects of the adrenaline would go a long way towards cancelling out any reaction to the preservative. I only use adrenaline if the attack is a pretty dire one and there's nothing to lose anyway! (I don't get full-blown anaphylaxis, just carry the adrenaline for severe attacks)

I'd be grateful, though, if you do have any advice on the excluding sulphites thing, as I have a feeling it might be a major undertaking.... hubby and I are very fond of eating out (and of wine...) and I'm loath to give it up without good reason!

Take care

Em H


Another condideration with Red wine is the Tannins!

I can't have too much , one glass max, as it makes me wheezy and gives me a stonking headache too!

Some wines such as those with the Co-Op label on do label sulphites etc and other potential allergens. Not looked at the red wines though....

Sulphites get everywhere eg Sulphur Dioxide E220 as a preservative in 'healthy' dried fruit such as Apricots etc - I get the natural dried ones - look brown but taste better.

Sulphure dioxide is also an airborne pollutant too especially in smog and comes from the burning of brown coal!



Hi Em,

I do have to steer clear of all dietary sulphites and I can tell you that it isn't easy at all but it is possible. I'm afraid that there is no way you can eat out, except perhaps chips from the fish and chip shop and only if they've been cooked separately from everything else. I don't just have to avoid sulphites though, I have to avoid just about all preservatives - sulphates, sulphites, nitrates, nitrites, benzoic acid, benzoates, sulphur dioxide and then all the food colourings.

As of November last year the law now requires that all wine companies declare any content of sulphites, though they don't have to specify what content. This also doesn't cover any wines that have been in the shop prior to November 2005 so be careful if you're trying to avoid sulphites.

I would highly recommend speaking to your cons or having a referral to an immunologist before completely excluding preservatives from your diet as it isn't an easy undertaking and they may well want to monitor you for the first several months too. If however you are wanting to try to avoid preservatives and colourings here's a basic list of things to be aware of...

- any product containing any white flour contains preservatives.

- no shop bought bread can be guaranteed preservative free unless you have spoken directly to the baker (this is why I make my own)

- milk powder contains preservatives so anything that contains milk powder also does by definition. This includes some dark chocolates (though green and black's dark is okay)

- practically all ground spices contain colourings. The only colourings that are permitted in my diet are Annatto (sometimes used to colour cheese), caramel (often used to colour vinegar, and turmeric .... though I've had anaphylaxis to turmeric once so am not very easy going about this. I tend to buy whole spices and grind them myself.

- All products should be carefully checked for spices or spice extracts as they are more than likely from a ground source containing a colouring

- Fruit juice drinks must be 100% pure, not from concentrate as these contain preservatives.

- Natural preservatives occur in peas, mint and bananas so all products containing any traces of these must be avoided.

- many, though not all cream cheeses contain preservatives.

- all pre-packed salad is sprayed with copious amounts of preservatives so must not be eaten and all other fruit and veg must be very well washed.

- all rice, pasta and other grains must be wholegrain/wholemeal

- Many crisps etc are full of preservatives and colourings.

- flavour essences often have preservatives in too so best to avoid them unless you're willing to take a risk.

- I'm veggie so don't eat meat/fish but if I did then I'd have to avoid all supermarket packaged meats and frozen meats, ready to eat cold meats and anything in breadcrumb coating (white flour!). Also fish in batter, ready cooked fish, fish cakes/fingers, canned fish in tomato sauce etc, smoked fish.

- pickles generally are a no-no and this includes pickled eggs as well as chutney, and then there's no salad cream or mayonnaise etc.

Er, yeah, so that's most of the basic foods you have to avoid, though if you want more info I can always give you more details. Other things to avoid though include minty toothpaste and in fact toothpaste containing preservatives, which is really difficult to find but Weleda do a good range of toothpaste and other toiletries e.g. shampoo, bath smellies (I make my own bath bombs mostly). Soap is also one to watch out for as anything that makes bubbles often contains Sodium Laurylth Sulphate, and this is found in shampoos and even toothpastes too.

Try to be careful about colourings in meds too. Eg I can't have the EC pred as it's bright red. Most other meds I have to either make sure they are white or, if they're in a capsule, whenever possible I have to remove the powder from the capsule and swallow it down like that. There are meds like epipens that come already in a stabalising solution that contains a preservative such as sodium metabisulphite. In my case it means that the adrenaline isn't quite as effective because I'm also essentially injecting myself with poison, but there is no substitute so it just makes it more urgent for me to get medical attention and to use more than one epipen.

Yeah, so it's not easy, but it is possible and you find that suddenly you learn how to cook rather well, though it's a bind not being able to eat out.

Let me know if you want any more info.



Flipping heck! Errm, thanks Becky... I don't envy you! I bet you don't get invited out to dinner very often...

I'd naively thought that because hubby and I don't eat processed food and do make quite a lot of things from scratch (eg mayonnaise, sauces, stock etc) that we'd not have to do too much more, although I knew the eating out thing was a problem.

The reaction I seem get to Efcortesol is not anaphylaxis but is not far off - generalised rash and itching, worsening wheeze, vomiting, lightheadedness etc. The problem is I don't know for certain that it is the formaldehyde sodium bisulphite that's doing it, although looking at the ingredients it seems the only likely culprit. I've obviously only ever had Efcortesol during a severe attack, so it's difficult to separate out the effects of the drug from what was going on anyway...

If excluding sulphites is going to be a real hassle I would like to know for sure first...

The Epipen thing does worry me too, although I only use it when the situation is pretty dire, not for every attack... using more than one sounds like a good idea,and obviously getting the hydrocort and everything else in as soon as possible. Also, it occurs to me that because I'm not using it for anaphylaxis but for severe asthma, I don't always have antihistamines when I've had adrenaline, but I guess if I am potentially introducing a substance that I could be allergic to into my body, it would make sense to have some oral or IV chlorpheniramine as well? Presumably if you're using it for anaphylaxis you would always have antihistamines too.

A lot to think about...

Take care

Em H


No it's not easy, particularly at the beginning, but you do get used to it most of the time. My friends are good and do still ask me over for meals sometimes, though I often end up taking a fair amount myself or giving them loads of advice. I usually find myself going round the supermarket with them on their mobile as they check everything they put in their basket, but I also keep a document on my computer that I email to friends that has a list of safe and unsafe for me.

The advantage of all of this of course is that when I go into hospital all my meals are specially prepared for me and cooked individually so it's always lovely stuff.

When it comes to anaphylaxis then yes, I always have antihistamines on board too. In fact I take Fexofenadine everyday of the year anyway, then have Citirizine and Chlorpheniramine as extras. At the first sign of an allergy I take a double dose of Citirizine, which is apparantly more potent than Chlorpheniramine and works more quickly, but it has to be chewed and it tastes completely and utterly *disgusting*, but it gets it into the system more quickly. Taking this before Chlorpheniramine also leaves more scope for emergency treatment with IV Chlorpheniramine once paramedics arrive or I get to hospital as there is of course a limit to how much you can have. However, I do have Chlorpheniramine too and can take a pretty big dose of that too if I need to. After all, if there's the risk of death from anaphylaxis then quite frankly taking antihistamines isn't going to be much of an added risk.

As I said before, it's best to get advice from an immunologist and their own dietian before undertaking a preservative and colouring free diet as the implications are quite massive, but if you want any more advice or info from me then do just ask.



By jings (cor blimey - for those who live in the land attached to Scotland) that’s some list Becky. You multi-reactors are something else!

Em, you probably know this already, but I felt it noteworthy (as he slips on his Dr Spock wig) - Formaldehyde is a recognised respiratory sensitiser and is well documented in umpteen learned journals for causing wide ranging allergy symptoms/immune system dysfunction. My point is, if you are a multiple symptom allergic then the risk of reacting to formaldehyde must be quite high.

Whilst you may well react to sulphites in red wine (and other foods & drinks) formaldehyde contained in other substances that you come into contact with should not be overlooked.

Take hair,



Thanks, Becky, I might just be asking you for more advice if my cons does agree to do a blinded test and it confirms that I am reacting to something in the Efcortesol. I also take antihistamines all the time, as I get hayfever-type symptoms all year round, but I'll maybe take more if next time I use the Epipen.

Deek, thanks, I must admit I hadn't really thought about the formaldehyde bit of it, I was focusing more on the sulphites aspect. I know formaldehyde gas can cause a lot of problems as an inhaled allergen/irritant, and I can remember having problems with fumes from formulin during dissection as a med student. I'm not sure about oral ingestion of substances containing formaldehyde - I know it is naturally contained in some foods in small amounts.

Several of the consultants that I have seen in the past have theorised based on the suddenness of my attacks and my bloods that I am reacting to some unknown allergen; Becky is right, though, I think I need an Immunologist and more testing to unpick this one before I start potentially very complicated exclusions from my diet!

Can open... worms everywhere!

Thanks again Becky and Deek for your thoughts... much appreciated

Em H

PS CAL, I appear to be guilty of thread hijacking of the most heinous kind... I do apologise!



Hi Em, we seem to have gone a wee bit off topic here, but I'll just carry on.

Efcortisol is hydrocortisone sodium phosphate, solu-cortef is the sodium succinate. Apparently widespread pruritis (itch for the non medics), and sometimes bronchospasm, can be precipitated by the Na phosphate form of hydrocortisone, due to histamine release, which you get on injection - usually only clinically noticable iv. The succinate doesn't cause this. I learnt this as a JHO and promptly persuaded the hospital I worked in (and in fact the other 2 in the same trust) to change to the succinate, cos I had horrid reactions, as did several of my frequent flier patients, who appreciated the change. I did a literature search on it at the time and came up with quite a bit of stuff, but don't still have it cos my old computer died.

It may be this you are having problems with rather than the preservative (I hope so cos it is easier to avoid the drug than that huge lost of things poor becky has to).


Formaldehyde is evil stuff - I reacted to it while killing a tray of pond invertebrates so I could count and ID them - the poor critters went a bit berzerk for a minute or two after adding the stuff!


Formaldehyde is also one of my major allergens affecting both lungs and skin. It took some time for me to realise why I couldn’t use standard soap powders and fabric conditioners without major contact dermatitis and wheezing problems, even when my clothes had gone through two rinses Most of these products contain non-ionic surfactants aka formaldehyde. It’s so annoying when the manufacturers won’t list the real chemical name. On second thoughts probably just ‘clever’ marketing.

Hmmm you're right Kate. Formaldehyde - definitely a devil's own type allergan!



Owl, thanks for that, I've not come across anyone else who reacts to Efcortesol in the same way I do, so it's good to know I'm not alone!

I did initially consider that it might be the sodium phosphate ester that I was reacting to, but my consultant seemed pretty convinced that it couldn't be, given that phosphate ions show up pretty frequently in metabolic reactions. I'm not sure myself... the body's ability to do bizarre things never ceases to amaze me, especially in the case of brittle asthma!

I'm struggling to find info on this though - the BNF just mentions 'perineal pain and paraesthesia' (!) for the phosphate ester, and most of the case reports I can find in my (admittedly brief) literature search seem to refer to allergic reactions to hydrocortisone sodium succinate rather than phosphate. (Interestingly, succinate allergy is apparently more common in aspirin-sensitive asthma)

I'm not sure where to go from here in terms of trying to unpick whether it is the formaldehyde sodium bisulphite I'm reacting to or the phosphate ester itself. I guess I need to speak to my consultant again about it. I don't really feel I can ignore it, because I've not been very good asthma-wise over the last few months and if there is something like dietary sulphites or formaldehyde in washing powder that I can do about it, then I need to know! It's all very complicated though!

Once again, apologies for hijacking this topic, and thanks everyone for your thoughts!

Em H


Em, (says he wearing Dr Spock wig complete with black face mask to conceal identity whilst hijacking this thread, again)

Just don’t put too much faith in the immunologist being able to pin-point your problems. Immunologists may well be able to identify common things that cause you IgE-mediated reactions, but I don’t think they are so hot at determining the cause of non IgE-mediated reactions, particularly when it comes to food/chemical sensitivity and intolerance.

You see, multi-reactors (like you and Becky for example) break the immunological mould because people are not suppose to react to more than a very small number of biological allergens (i.e. typical of atopic allergy). Immunologists tend to have difficulty in explaining anything that doesn’t quite fit typical atopic allergy. And if you ask an immunologist why you sometimes react to a substance, but other times not, he may be unable to confirm the reason for this. According to the “rules” of IgE-mediated allergy, once a person has been sensitised to a substance they then will always react upon subsequent exposure, unless of course the person has been de-sensitised.

My advice would be, find yourself (preferably on recommendation) a good allergist.

Return of thread unharmed (as he throws wig and mask into the corner)

Take hair,



wow guys - I am feeling SO glad that I don't react to much now!!! Em H - good luck in your search and hope you get some results soon, BeckyG - the diet sounds like a nightmare!






I'm no good with red wine - makes me yawn and feel sleepy. Something to avoid on a night out. No such problems with rose.

Best of luck Cal, on the rose.



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