One unexpected long-term symptom of a COVID-19 infection seems to be alcohol intolerance but because it hasn’t really been studied much, it is still unclear just how common this really is amongst those affected by long COVID.
An internal medicine physician at the RTHM clinic by the name of Dr. Stuart Malcolm, claims that many patients of his have given up alcohol completely “because it seems to universally not make people feel well.”
The expert goes on to estimate that between 5 percent and 10 percent of his patients are dealing with alcohol intolerance as an aftermath of their COVID diagnosis in the past.
Furthermore, a neurologist suffering from long COVID from Louisiana also opened up about her experience in a blog post back in March of 2021.
Finally, other notable instances were also detailed in a Reddit thread last February, revealing that this is not such an isolated occurrence.
In general, alcohol intolerance can happen even to people not experiencing long COVID and usually goes away or becomes less serious as time goes by.
For those who enjoy drinking alcohol regularly, this symptom can be quite inconvenient but there is no denying that it’s not the worst when compared to other severe effects of long COVID.
As unexpected of a symptom as it may sound to the untrained person, experts are not that shocked to realize alcohol intolerance is among the symptoms caused by long COVID.
A professor of medicine from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Anthony Komaroff, explains that “It does not surprise me at all because we now know that there are all sorts of underlying biological abnormalities in people with ME/CFS that also involve the immune system, energy metabolism, the brain, autonomic nervous system, and the microbiome of the gut, most of which are now showing up in people with long COVID. But what specifically the abnormalities are that lead to alcohol intolerance we don’t know yet.”
Typically, alcohol intolerance is actually an inherited metabolic disorder that causes the inability to process alcohol the same way others do.
This genetic mutation makes a certain enzyme, or protein, less efficient at converting alcoholic drinks into non-toxic substances, leading to a build-up of toxins in the blood.
Those who have it may experience a flushed face, neck and chest almost right after they ingest any amount of alcohol.
Other symptoms can be nausea, stuffy nose, vomiting, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, headaches, diarrhea, as well as worsening asthma.
This genetic mutation is more common among people of Asian descent and the only way to manage it is by avoiding alcohol entirely.
However, when it’s linked to long COVID or any other chronic condition, alcohol intolerance is likely to harm the body via a separate chemical mechanism unrelated to a genetic mutation of allergy.
Professor of medicine at UC Davis Health, Dr. Vikrant Rachakonda, says that it is possible for coronavirus to directly affect the enzymes responsible for processing alcohol but at this point, this is more of an educated guess as more research needs to be done in order to learn more.