Imagine ordering a pint at your favorite bar, taking your first sip, and feeling your skin flush and your nose start to run. Your heart pounds in your chest, and you suddenly have to run to the bathroom.
Welcome to your worst nightmare: You're allergic to beer.
That nightmare came true for one 45-year-old Italian man, according to a recent study from a team of Italian allergy researchers. But there's hope: After skin-prick-testing the man for allergic reactions to 36 types of beer, the Italian team found two beers the man could drink safely. Huzzah! (Science: Saving the world one man at a time.)
What causes a beer allergy? It's usually a type of protein called LTP, which is found in barley, a common ingredient in many beers, says Heinz Decker, Ph.D, who has studied alcohol allergies at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. Reactions vary significantly among sufferers. You could experience anything from itchy skin to awful bouts of nausea and headaches, Decker explains.
Beer (and wine) allergies pop up in about 1 percent of the population, according to the Food and Drug Administration. If that scares you, then you may want to stop reading now. Some of the strangest allergies are a lot more common than you might think. (Need allergy relief? Find--and fix--your problem fast by checking out the Men's Health Allergy Center.)
You're allergic to: The cold (a.k.a. cold-induced urticaria)
How you know: Exposure to cold air or water causes itchy or swollen skin, large red welts, or hives.
Likelihood: Roughly 2 percent of the population, although the rates are higher in tropical and very cold regions, according to a study in the journal Practical Dermatology.
Worst-case scenario: Death, but only if you have an unusually severe case and you decide to dive into freezing cold water. (Don't.)
The culprit: When you're cold, your skin produces "chemical mediators" like histamine that cause your blood vessels to contract, says a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Unfortunately, you're also allergic to one or more of those chemicals, the study says.
How to beat it: Bundle up and wait it out. For most sufferers, symptoms subside within a few years.
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You're allergic to: Shoes (a.k.a. leather-induced contact dermatitis)
How you know: Contact with leather causes itchy or swollen skin, rashes, blisters, or a burning sensation.
Likelihood: Roughly one in 500 people, says the World Allergy Organization.
Worst-case scenario: You can't wear leather shoes or belts, or that snappy new bolo tie you just bought.
The culprit: A type of formaldehyde resin called PTBP that's used to treat most manufactured leather products.
How to beat it: Dab your skin with a damp cloth. If that doesn't help, try topical treatments like creams or lotions that contain corticosteroids, like Cortaid. (Cure any allergy out there with our list of The Best Allergy Medications for Men.)
You're allergic to: The sun (a.k.a. polymorphic light eruption)
How you know: Itchy skin and tiny bumps or hives appear 1 to 4 days after sun exposure. You may also notice skin swelling or flat bumps called plaques, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Likelihood: Roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population, but more in Northern European countries, finds a study from the St. John's Institute of Dermatology in England.
Worst-case scenario: Pitted scars from a severe reaction.
The culprit: The sun's ultraviolet radiation causes changes in your skin's proteins. Your immune system misidentifies these proteins as harmful and attacks them.
How to beat it: Oral antihistamines like Claritin or Benadryl, or corticosteroid creams like Cortaid.
You're allergic to: Money (a.k.a. nickel-induced contact dermatitis)
How you know: Touching coins, certain types of jewelry or watches, or other items made from nickel causes a skin rash or bumps, itching, or dry skin that resembles a burn.
Likelihood: Roughly 6 percent of men, but 10 percent of women. (Start saving up for gold jewelry.)
Worst-case scenario: Painful, leaky blisters.
The culprit: Your immune system identifies nickel as an enemy. Dermatologists aren't sure why some people develop allergies to certain substances, but it could be hereditary.
How to beat it: Oral antihistamines or corticosteroids like Allegra, Zyrtec, or prednisone. (Every day you could be inhaling harmful chemicals. Learn the 5 Greatest Indoor Air Dangers.)
You're allergic to: Shellfish
How you know: Contact with crustaceans like shrimp, lobster, or crab causes hives; swelling of the lips, face, or throat; trouble breathing or congestion; diarrhea; or nausea.
Likelihood: About 2 percent of the U.S. population, finds the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).
Worst-case scenario: Death. A bad reaction causes anaphylaxis, which means your throat swells and you can't breathe, you become dizzy, and you may go into shock.
The culprit: Certain shellfish proteins cause your immune system to flip out and release histamines and other chemicals that produce your allergy symptoms.
How to beat it: Stay away from shellfish. If you do have an allergic reaction, reach for oral antihistamines like Claritin or Benadryl. If you have trouble breathing or swallowing, head for the ER, advises the ACAAI.
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