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What is Alcohol Flush Reaction?

Marjorie McAtee
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Alcohol flush reaction (AFR) is a genetic mutation that can cause a deeply flushed appearance with consumption of even very small amounts of alcohol. AFR can cause other, more severe symptoms, including increased heart rate, swelling of the skin, and vomiting. In rare cases, this condition has been known to be fatal. It is common among people of Asian descent, and has attracted the common name "Asian glow," even though people of non-Asian descent are sometimes born with the genetic mutation that causes it. Affected persons generally don't produce one of the enzymes crucial to the metabolization of alcohol, or produce it only in very small amounts.

Enzymes within the normal human body help to break down alcohol so that it can be processed by the liver. When alcohol is initially consumed, an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) usually breaks that alcohol down into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is normally toxic and carcinogenic, but the normal body produces an enzyme known as aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH-2). ALDH-2 can break acetaldehyde down into acetic acid, which is considered virtually harmless.

People suffering from the genetic mutation that causes alcohol flush reaction usually don't have enough ALDH-2. There are different degrees of alcohol flush reaction. Some people may be able to consume several alcoholic beverages before experiencing a reaction, while others will experience a reaction upon consuming even the tiniest sip of alcohol.

Alcohol flush reaction typically worsens as acetaldehyde accumulates within the body. It often first causes the skin of the head, neck and face to flush. Skin can become deeply flushed, and the flushing might extend to the rest of the body.

Further symptoms of alcoholic flush reaction can be more severe. Skin may become blotchy in appearance and might swell. Dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, and headaches can occur. Blood pressure might suddenly drop. Rapid heart rate, vomiting and bleeding in the stomach can occur. If individuals suffering alcoholic flush reaction drink too much alcohol, the reaction can be severe enough to cause death.

Because alcoholic flush reaction generally occurs as a genetic mutation, an effective treatment has not yet been established. Persons affected by this condition often seek out remedies, but there is currently no scientific evidence to confirm the efficacy of any of these treatments. Physicians do believe that consuming alcohol with alcohol flush reaction can greatly increase the risk of cancer, and most people affected by AFR are strongly advised to avoid alcohol altogether.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By whatispedia — On Sep 14, 2014

Asian Flush can be prevented with no red face formula or noglo, but in reality it is your body warning you to stay away from alcohol.

By Wisedly33 — On Aug 12, 2014

Alcohol flush reaction is really uncomfortable, I'm told. I rarely drink because I just don't like it, but I've never had that kind of reaction.

I do have a friend who avoids alcohol altogether because of the AFR. One drink and her face is flaming red and she's nauseated. I'd call her reaction a genuine, legitimate allergy. She's not a party chick, fortunately, so she doesn't drink, regardless, and she doesn't hang out with a wild crowd, so she's in pretty good shape where that's concerned. She's not usually tempted.

By Scrbblchick — On Aug 11, 2014

I have minor AFR, and it usually shows up after one drink. My face flushes and my ears burn. The problem for me is that my skin gets so warm. I'll go to the bathroom and splash water on my face to help cool the skin.

It seems to be worse with wine. If I have a mixed drink, it doesn't seem to be as bad. I don't get it nearly as bad with rum, either. I'm not sure why. Maybe if I have a daiquiri, there is enough of other things to help dilute the alcohol enough that it doesn't bother me too much. But I don't drink much, so it's not that much of a problem for me. I don't like the way the flush makes me feel, so I don't drink very often.

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
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