Dr. Dean

Do I Have An Allergy To The Smell Of Alcohol?

Posting Date: 04/27/2000

Maryanne: Some years ago, I developed an allergy to drinking alcohol. Now, just the smell of it causes me to have a reaction. If anyone is around me with a glass of anything, I get a headache. This is certainly limiting my fun.

Dr. Dean: Yes, this will definitely put a crimp in your social life.

I want to clarify that this response to smell is not an allergy, but a conditioned reflex. You may well be allergic to sulfites, which would account for the taste of alcohol making you sick, but odors are not sulfites; the volatized alcohol does not contain molecules.

Just as the 19th century dogs salivated at the sound of Pavlov's bell, you are associating alcohol with feeling ill, so when you smell it, you feel ill. There are types of alcohol that don't smell. We could test you by putting you in a room with non-odorous alcohol. I would bet that in the absence of smell, the stimulus, you will not have a response, illness.