Couple of days ago I was talking to one friend of mine (ENT surgeon, too) who was complaining that whenever he consumes alcohol he feels sinus pain. When I asked if this may be a simple headache he told me: “Look, I am quite sure it is a sinus pressure. I have deviated septum and breathing problems, and after any alcohol drinking I just feel increased congestion and mucosal swelling inside my nose”…
So, what is the cause of his symptoms? It is condition called alcohol intolerance and it is caused by a genetic condition in which the body is unable to break down alcohol. Alcohol intolerance consists of immediate, unpleasant reactions after you consume alcohol. In some cases – what you think to be alcohol intolerance may be caused by a reaction to something else in certain alcoholic beverages (especially in beer or wine), such as chemicals, grains, or preservatives like sulfur dioxide. The most common symptoms caused by alcohol intolerance include nasal congestion and flushing skin!
Furthermore, certain alcoholic beverages (primarily wine!) can contain histamine – a byproduct of fermentation or brewing. Histamine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that helps the immune system fights off harmful substances. However - too much histamine in soft tissues (such as mucosa of the sinuses) can lead to inflammation and irritation. Naturally, sinuses are connected to the nasal cavities by narrow channels called the osteomeatal complex. These channels allow spontaneous drainage of mucous from sinuses into the nose. We are normally not aware of this process because the osteomeatal complex channels to the nose are completely permeable.
As histamine is released, mucosa of sinuses, the nose and the osteomeatal complex become irritated and swollen, which prevents the mucus within the sinuses from draining into the nose. Blocked sinuses will then result in typical symptoms of facial pressure, pain or headache, which will last as long as sinus channels are clogged. Other symptoms associated with alcohol-related nasal congestion may include difficulty breathing through the nose, sneezing, a runny nose or postnasal drip. Symptoms of alcohol-related symptoms are more pronounced in people who have other nasal or sinus conditions, such as deviated septum, allergic rhinitis or nasal polyps. In these people, certain procedures (such as septoplasty, coblation turbinate reduction or polyp removal) can help alleviate their problems.
Dr. Sasa Janjanin is double European Board-certified in ENT and Facial Plastic Surgery. He extensively trained in complete surgical and medical treatment of patients with disorders and diseases of the head and neck. However, his major expertise is in facial plastic, aesthetic and reconstructive surgery; problems related to thyroid and parathyroid glands; skin cancer; kid’s ENT problems; nose, sinus and snoring complaints; and sport and diving-related ENT problems.