How to recognize and avoid an allergy to sulfites?

How to recognize and avoid an allergy to sulfites?

Sulfites are chemical preservatives used in a variety of foods, including beverages such as wine and beer. They are added to processed foods to extend their shelf life and are even added to some medicines to ensure their stability. In some people, especially asthmatics, sulfites are likely to cause allergic reactions. People who are sensitive to sulfites often experience allergic reactions similar to people with food allergies.

Symptoms of a sulfite allergy.

Sulfite allergy symptoms can be mild to moderate and very rarely severe. The main symptoms of sulfite sensitivity are:

  • Digestive symptoms: diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and nausea.
  • Skin symptoms: redness and tingling of the skin, hives and itching.
  • Respiratory symptoms: wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, chest tightness.
  • Anxiety, paleness and feeling tired
  • Anaphylactic shock: Very rarely, a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction can cause low blood pressure and extreme difficulty breathing, including loss of consciousness.

Foods and drugs containing sulfites

Certain foods, such as parmesan cheese and mushrooms, are high in sulfites. Canned foods and beverages, including wine, cider, beer, cured meats, and soft drinks, are typically high in sulfites. Sulfites can be hidden in salad dressings in the form of vinegar or packaged lemon juice. Even in pizzas that use processed tomato sauce and olives.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and fish, fresh dairy products, freshly prepared sauces and spices are generally considered sulfite-free.

Sulfites may be present in prescription nausea and vomiting medications, antibiotics, psychoactive drugs, cardiovascular medications, infusion medications, respiratory medications, pain medications, steroids, and anesthetics.

Sulfite in the air.

In addition to food and medicine, the source of sulfites can also be polluted air. Sulfur dioxide levels can be very high in the air near oil and coal burning facilities, as well as in polluted air on foggy days. Exposure to sulfur dioxide in air can cause bronchoconstriction, even in normal people. In people with asthma, even a very short exposure to sulfur dioxide can cause severe bronchoconstriction.

Diagnosis and treatment of sulfite allergy.

Sulfite hypersensitivity is usually diagnosed by elimination and reintroduction of foods. This method consists in excluding foods containing sulfites for a certain period of time. These foods are gradually reintroduced to see what kind of reaction they may cause.

Sulphite sensitivity is also diagnosed using a food challenge test. This involves ingesting very small amounts of sulfites while the subject is under the supervision and close monitoring of an allergist. If a reaction occurs, medication is given to reverse the symptoms.

The only solution to a sulfite allergy is to avoid foods high in sulfites. For example, dried fruit, beer, wine and processed foods. It is very important to read product labels carefully to avoid consuming foods containing sulfites. The following ingredients should be looked for on food labels:

  • Potassium bisulfite (E228).
  • Sulfur dioxide (E220).
  • Sodium bisulfite (E222).
  • Potassium metabisulphite (E224).
  • Sodium metabisulphite (E223).
  • Sodium sulfite (E221).

People with asthma should be extremely careful with foods that contain sulfites. Anaphylactic reactions after ingestion of sulfites require immediate emergency treatment, including an epinephrine injection, followed by further procedures and hospital observation. It is recommended that people who are extremely sensitive to sulfites keep epinephrine on hand at all times.

* Presse Santé strives to convey knowledge about health in a language accessible to all. IN NO CIRCUMSTANCES can the information provided replace the advice of a medical professional.
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