What Is a Sulfite Allergy?
A sulfite allergy is an adverse reaction to consuming or coming into contact with sulfites. Sulfites are a group of sulfur-based compounds that are often added to various foods, beverages, and medications as preservatives. Their primary function is to prevent spoilage and maintain the freshness of products.
For most individuals, consuming sulfites is harmless. However, if you have an allergy to sulfites or sulfite sensitivity, even small amounts can cause an unwanted reaction. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to sulfites can be mild or severe. You might experience symptoms such as hives, stomach pain, or even difficulty breathing.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common sulfite allergy symptoms are asthma-related. The symptoms are usually mild and often subside on their own without treatment. Your doctor may also refer to your symptoms as sulfite allergy complications or signs of sesame allergy.
Sulfite allergy signs:
- Trouble breathing
- Itchy rash
The exact sulfite allergy causes are not entirely understood. Doctors believe the allergy comes from an individual's immune system mistakenly identifying sulfites as harmful invaders. When this occurs, the body reacts defensively, producing antibodies against sulfites. Subsequent exposure triggers the body to release chemicals that lead to allergy symptoms. This is considered an adverse sulfite reaction.
Sulfite allergy diagnosis typically involves a routine exam, review of your medical history, and a test called a food challenge.
During a food challenge, your doctor gives you progressively larger doses of sulfites to consume under close medical supervision. Your doctor will continuously monitor your reaction to sulfites. This test helps determine the presence and severity of a sulfite allergy.
Certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing a sulfite allergy or intensify the reactions experienced. Sulfite allergy risk factors include having asthma, as asthmatics can exhibit heightened sensitivity to sulfites. Individuals with a history of other food allergies may also be at a higher risk. Consuming large amounts of sulfites or ingesting them on an empty stomach might exacerbate a allergic reaction, making it more severe or prolonged.
Treatment & Prevention
Most sulfite allergy reactions tend to be mild and often subside on their own without any need for medical intervention. An allergist can provide a tailored sulfite allergy treatment plan to address and manage more prolonged or severe reactions.
For individuals who exhibit asthma-like symptoms because of their sulfite sensitivity, allergists may prescribe inhalers to alleviate breathing difficulties. Rarely, a sulfite reaction escalates to anaphylactic shock, a serious and potentially fatal allergic response. The most effective treatment for these severe reactions is often immediate injection of epinephrine, followed by emergency medical attention. Preventative measures often revolve around avoiding products containing sulfites and carrying the necessary medications in case of accidental exposure.
Foods & Medications to Avoid
If you experience a sulfite allergy, you might want to avoid certain foods and medications. An allergist will likely give you a sulfite allergy food list.
Food and beverages that contain sulfite:
- Preserved fruits
- Citrus concentrates
- Fermented cabbage
- Alcoholic beverages
- Store-bought gravies
- Store-bought sauces
- Canned fruit syrups
- Prepackaged foods
- Imported juices
- Imported sodas
You may also want to avoid medications that contain sulfites.
Medications that contain sulfite:
Please note that, while epinephrine may contain trace amounts of sulfite, it is the treatment for anaphylaxis. Talk to your doctor or allergist about what medications to avoid.
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