Contrary to common belief, the Asian flush reaction is actually not an allergy. It is a genetic condition, also often referred to as alcohol flush reaction, and comes about as a result of our body’s reaction to a toxic metabolic byproduct of alcohol.
This toxic reaction occurs because of a genetic predisposition that causes an inhibited acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme that is normally active in breaking down acetaldehyde, which is a byproduct of alcohol metabolism.
According to a study conducted in 2007, nearly 40% of Japanese, Chinese and Korean drinkers have Asian flush. In addition to this, despite the racially specific name, this flushing can be experienced by people of all nationalities and is not exclusive to Asians.
The physical symptoms often occur 10 to 30 minutes after alcohol consumption. The first signs are a tightening sensation on one’s face, especially around the cheeks and eyes, accompanied by an increase in heart rate and mildly restricted breathing.
These initial symptoms progress to a hot throbbing sensation accompanied by a red flushing of the skin around the face, neck and chest. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, physical symptoms have the potential of progressing to throbbing headaches, itchiness, hives, dizziness and nausea.
Many test subjects have also reported heightened social anxiety and a feeling of embarrassment when experiencing Asian flush in public. This anxiety can even cause the reaction to worsen and in turn form the basis for further anxiety to the point where some subjects have even reported wanting to “go home” whenever their reaction becomes unbearable.
Esophageal Cancer Risk
Research suggests that someone with Asian flush who consumes two beers a day has a ten-fold greater risk of developing esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is hard to detect and is one of the deadliest cancers in the world.
Despite this risk, alcohol consumption remains a common activity in most people’s social and professional lives. Responsible health practices would suggest that Asian flush sufferers should refrain from drinking on a regular basis and seek regular medical check ups to verify the non-existence of esophageal cancer.
Living With Asian Flush
Most people who have this disorder will tell you that it is both annoying and embarrassing to experience a red flushed face in public. Feedback from test subjects emphasizes a desire for a way to control their symptoms and drink alcohol without experiencing, above all, an unpleasant and embarrassing red face.
Please continue on to our blog post titled ‘Asian Flush Success Story‘ to find out about how some people are controlling their symptoms.
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