Wine Headaches: Reasons, Treatments & Prevention

Imagine having your favorite glass of wine in the middle of a beautiful evening. Then, suddenly, things started to blur, and you felt a throbbing pain in your head. And maybe because you have a wine headache.

Most of the time, wine headaches happen because of too much wine. But it also happens that there are headache triggers even if you only have a small sip of wine.

This article will discuss the common phenomenon of wine headaches, why they happen, their triggers, and how one can treat and prevent them. If you have this dilemma like the rest, keep reading!

What is a Wine Headache?

What is a Wine Headache

Wine headache is an unusual type of headache caused by alcohol content found in beverages. Generally speaking, most of the headaches associated with drinking wines will not begin soon.

Pain will manifest once alcohol enters our body system. The first twinge of headaches happens after a few sips and may appear a few hours later.

The main ingredient in alcoholic drinks triggering headaches is ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Alcohol widens the blood vessels, resulting in dehydration. Later on, dehydration will cause vessel inflammation, inviting a painful headache.

Overall, there are many contributing factors to why people experience wine headaches. These factors also determine the intensity and duration of the pain. This article will discuss the reasons behind wine headaches and tips on how one can cure and prevent them.

The Myth Behind Sulfites as Culprit for Wine Headaches


There’s an ongoing popular belief circulating for quite some time. It’s the opinion that sulfites are the number one culprit for wine headaches. However, let’s debunk that myth. And let’s see what sulfites are and why people closely link them to wine headaches.

Winemakers use sulfites as one of the primary ingredients of wine because of their potent benefits. Sulfur is inevitable in winemaking since it kills yeasts and unwanted bacteria.

On top of everything, this ingredient prevents the wine from spoiling and browning. So, wine crafters cannot avoid sulfites entirely because they are a byproduct of wine fermentation.

Most of the time, people blamed sulfites for wine headaches. But sulfites are the only compounds used in preserving white and red wines. While some may have a sulfite allergy, the headache will not occur.

Instead, those sensitive to sulfites will have breathing problems or allergic reactions like fever and hive. But it’s unlikely for one to experience headaches because of sulfites.

Top Three Causes of Wine Headaches

Across studies and research, there are the top three causes why people experience wine headaches. But as we’ve mentioned earlier, sulfites are not the culprit. So here are the reasons why wine causes headaches.

Cause #1: Histamine


Based on research, people experience and suffer from wine headaches because of histamines. They are naturally formed when winemakers ferment the grape juice. And yes, these histamines are the same chemicals people release as symptoms of allergic reactions like dry eyes, runny nose, and headaches.

In addition, studies found that foods like dry-aged meats and red wines cause our bodies to produce histamines and release allergic symptoms.

One can typically find histamines in grape skin. Since white wines do not have grape skins, they are unlikely to cause headaches compared to red wines. So, it’s normal to hear people having severe headaches after a few sips of red wine. If you are sensitive to histamine, drinking wines will most likely make you susceptible to headaches.

Further, since most people have allergic reactions to histamines, they will probably have lower wine tolerance. Sooner or later, people allergic to histamines will suffer from throbbing headaches.

Treatment for Histamine Wine  Headaches

Since histamines trigger headaches, you can drink a blocker like Claritin before you enjoy red wines. On top of that, it will be helpful for you to stick to red wines with lower histamine contents like Barbera and Dolcetto.

Cause  #2: Sugar


The combination of two substances, alcohol, and sugar, can produce an intense, painful headache. Once alcohol and sugar penetrate the body, one needs lots of water to process these substances.

If you are not well-hydrated, the body will extract the water from other body parts, including the head. As the body fluids start to drop and water leaves the head, it is most likely that headaches will form.

Treatment for Sugar Wine Headaches

Since you will lose water because of wine consumption, it is best to stay hydrated all the time. You can drink a glass of water and wine alternately. Or, before drinking too much wine, you can have a tall glass of water before you drink too much wine in the middle of the night.

To prevent sugar wine headaches, please avoid white wines like Riesling, which are sweet and semi-dry. But if Riesling is your favorite wine, but you don’t want to suffer from painful headaches, it would be best to find wine labeled as dry.

And lastly, do not consume cheaper wines since they have higher sugar levels. This increased sugar concentration happens because wine producers add more sugar to more inexpensive wines to boost alcohol consumption.

Cause # 3: Tannins


Tannins are a kind of compound usually found in plants. Wine contains tannins because of the grape stems, skins, and seeds. Because red wines get their color from the skin of the grapes, it is no wonder that red wines have tannins more than white wines.

Once you feel a drying sensation in the mouth when you drink wine, it’s most likely that you start to experience the effect of tannins. But for most of the population, tannins often do not cause problems such as headaches.

The truth is tannins hold potent benefits and are a great source of antioxidants. However, unfortunately, some have troubling headaches because of tannins.

Treatment for Tannin Wine Headaches

If you want to know if tannins contribute to your headache, you can do a quick test. Try to brew and have a strong cup of black tea. Black tea has rich tannin content.

When you let it seep, tannins are released in hot water. Once you drink this black tea and suffer from headaches, it is most likely because you have tannin sensitivity.

It will be helpful to avoid drinking red wines like Tannat or Cabernet Sauvignon to solve your wine headache issues. These types of red wines have super high tannins. If you like to get rid of headaches at one time, you can stick to drinking white wines.

But if you cannot live without red wines, it will be helpful to stick to Dolcetto, Gamay, and Pinot Noir, which are lower-tannin red blends.

Watch this YouTube video for a brief recap of why wines give you headaches and tips to prevent them.

Other Remedies to Avoid Wine Headaches

Once you feel that wine is one of the common triggers of your headaches, the best thing to do is go for full-blast wine prevention. That means you have to avoid either red or white blends.

But if you think that not all wines cause problematic headaches, you could drink and enjoy the wine that will work for you. Maybe, try to let go of the offending wines. As you might know, wines contain preservatives, grapes, and other ingredients. So, always keep a close watch.

It’s always better to pick high-quality wines over inexpensive ones. Also, drink and sip only from time to time to see how wines affect your head and body. Here are a few tips to cure wine headaches.

  1. Always stay hydrated. With every glass of wine you consume, it would be best to pair it with a glass of water. Hydration can quickly flash the alcohol, sugar, tannins, and sulfites out of your body. While one can forget to drink water while having wine, hydrating goes a long way to minimize wine headaches.
  2. Go for over-the-counter drugs. Common drugs found in the local drugstore like ibuprofen and aspirin help keep wine headaches at bay. These medicines cure muscle pain and headaches from consuming too much wine. However, it would be helpful to consult a physician if the pain continues.
  3. Drink coffee. Having caffeinated beverages will significantly aid in minimizing wine headaches and hangovers. Most of the time, caffeine is a great way to combat allergic reactions to sulfites and histamine. So, having a coffee first can be a game changer for wine headaches.

Frequently Asked Questions on Wine Headaches


Now we assume you know why wine may give you a painful throbbing in the head. So this time, let’s look deeper into common questions on the net about wine headaches. Together, let’s know more about how you can cure and prevent intense wine headaches.

What type of wine contains fewer tannins?

If you have tannin sensitivity, an excellent option would be to try drinking white wines like Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blanc. Only do this with your physician’s approval.

Do wines cause more headaches than other alcoholic drinks?

Wine has gained wide recognition for provoking headaches. But there’s no clear evidence or study proving that wines are the number one cause of headaches. Any alcoholic drinks may trigger headaches.

What are the types of wine that do not cause headaches?

Once you figure out that wine gives you intense headaches, you can settle for wines that don’t have triggers. You can go for white wines since they are rarely fermented and contain little or no tannin.

However, be careful and avoid oaked white wines. Because of the aging process and oaked tannin, oaked white wines contain histamines that might again trigger headaches.

The Bottom Line

It’s a normal thing for most people to experience problematic wine headaches. After all, there are three culprits causing this problem. But the good news is there’s a way to combat and prevent wine headaches.

So, the next time you want to drink and enjoy wine at a party, please do not overdo it. But suppose a wine headache strikes. You can cure it by following the tips we list in this article.


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