Let's call them The Allergy Generation. They are the approximate two million children in the U.S. who are growing up with life-threatening food allergies. Their immune systems are in overdrive, unable to distinguish between a deadly parasite, a spoonful of yogurt or a sprinkling of sesame seeds. In recent years, the Allergy Generation has borne much media skepticism. But as a mother of one such child I can report a cold fear that follows his accidents. Despite medical scrutiny and research there is no accessible cure for the Allergy Generation yet, other than avoidance.
My husband often blames himself for my son's vulnerability. At a gust of chill from the refrigerator door he sneezes himself into a stupor. Particular fruits and vegetables cause gyrations of itching in his throat. (Oral Allergies) Don't get me started on seasonal pollen. Or cats.
If you're thinking "Well, we all have our health problems!" I will share one more couple fun fact ... My husband is a lightweight. And by that I mean he can barely drink. And by "barely" I mean that if my husband goes past his single drink but only with food limit, he will get dizzy, sneeze hysterically, and a tidal wave of sweat builds from forehead to toes until he throws up. When we were young and heedless, two cocktails was one and three quarters too many. The math wasn't pretty.
I am a lightweight also. But by "also" I mean I don't weigh very much. Despite this, I can comfortably drink more than my husband's ration of alcohol. Damn comfortably if my kids are already tucked in bed. Then again, I don't have serious allergies either. So I wonder if my son and the rest of the Allergy Generation can look forward to their first legal drink? Or will that coming of age moment prove as dangerous as the wrong food?
It seems that there are many ways to be allergic to alcohol:
Sulfite Allergy - Some individuals are allergic to sulfites in foods and there can be sulfites in beer and wine. Sulfite allergies generally result in asthma, hives and eventually, anaphylaxis.
Histamine Sensitivity - Certain wines that contain high amounts of sulphates also contain high amounts of histamines which can trigger hives sneezing and wheezing.
Salycylate Allergy - Individuals can be allergic to the salycilates found in grapes and yeast i.e. wines and beer
Non-Allergic Rhinitis - Some people are vulnerable to extreme dilation of the blood vessels in the sinus due to a variety of factors like changes in temperature or fumes. In the case of food and drink it is often referred to as "gustory rhinitis" and explains my husband's explosive sneezes.
Alcohol Dehydrogenase - A condition caused by the lack of an enzyme called Aldehyde Dehydrogenas. That enzyme helps break down alcohol after it is consumed and a deficiency can result in symptoms of rapid heart rate and nausea. (Again, I've witnessed this process through the soft lens of my own wine glass.)
And there are sub-categories within the list above. So it seems likely that the children who cannot tolerate cross-contaminated foods, who are often saddled with asthma and eczema and who have been using daily antihistamine since their toddler years will also be the young adults who become allergic to alcohol. But I hope I'm wrong.
Of course I want someone to find a cure for my son's severe allergies, for example the promising immunological studies and treatment at Duke University, much more than I want to be wrong about my son having to forgo the pleasure of swallowing half a bottle of icy Mexican beer with a slice lime dancing up and down the bottle neck on a warm beach one future summer's day.