Have you ever returned home after a delightful afternoon drinking wine with friends only to develop a painful headache, stuffy nose or odd skin rash?

Perhaps you thought it was merely a case of not drinking enough water, sitting in the sun for too long or just good old overindulging! In fact, your symptoms could be a result of a wine allergy – a sensitivity to the sulphites, histamines or glycoproteins present in conventionally produced wine.

Here’s what you need to know:

Sulphur sensitivity

Sulfites are a preservative and are much more highly concentrated in white wine compared to red wine, which is preserved by natural tannins. They’re also generally found at higher levels in cask wine than bottled wine. Sulfites have been used since Roman times to preserve food flavour and colour, reduce spoilage, inhibit bacterial growth, stop fresh food from going off and increase shelf life. However, the sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) in sulfites is an irritant which can cause allergic reactions. The symptoms usually occur in those with underlying conditions such as asthma or hay fever.

Allergic symptoms include: wheezing, coughing and chest tightening.

Steps to minimise reactions: Go organic. Certain organic white wines from organic wineries such as Kalleske and Tamburlaine do not have additional sulphites added during production. Always check the label to understand what exactly is in the wine and to make sure it is certified organic with the Australian Organic bud logo. With commercial varieties, avoid less acidic wines as these have higher sulphite levels. And select dry wines with lower sugar content as these require fewer sulphites.

Histamine sensitivity

Histamine is an organic nitrogenous compound which affects immune responses. It’s present in a variety of fermented products such as wine, aged cheeses, and sauerkraut. Red wine has 20 to 200 per cent more histamine than white wine, and those who react to it may be deficient in the enzyme diamine oxidase. Some people have lower levels of diamine oxide, which means they have a reduced ability to lower the level of histamines in the body. They are therefore at increased risk of allergic symptoms.

Allergic symptoms include: headaches, rashes, itching, wheezing and abdominal pain.

Steps to minimise reactions: The only way to avoid the histamines altogether is to not drink red wine. However, if you can’t resist, go for lighter style reds as the darker and thicker the skin of the grape, the more histamines will be present. You could also take an anti-histamine an hour before drinking which should reduce the reaction. Drinking black tea may also have some histamine-reducing effect.

Glycoprotein sensitivity

Wine contains proteins and research suggests that glycoproteins — proteins coated with sugars produced naturally as grapes ferment — may also cause sensitivity. A recent study in the Journal of Proteome Research discovered 28 different glycoproteins – some of which were identified for the first time. An analysis revealed that some of these glycoproteins had very similar structures to other known allergens such as the proteins found in latex and ragweed. However more research still needs to be done in this area to fully understand its effects.