What Are Sulfites?
Sulfites are chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives for a range of different types of foods and beverages. For example, sulfites are often added to shellfish to prevent discoloring, processed foods to give them a longer shelf life, and dehydrated fruits and veggies to preserve them. You can also find these chemicals in soft drinks and alcoholic beverages like wine. In addition, some medications contain sulfites, which work to keep the drugs stable and effective. Sulfites are also used in cosmetics.
What are the symptoms of sulfite allergy?
The most common adverse reactions, including wheezing, chest tightness and coughing are estimated to affect 10% of people with asthma. Symptoms are more likely when asthma is poorly controlled. However, adverse reactions to sulfites can also occur when there is no preceding history of asthma. Anaphylaxis has been described, but is very rare. Symptoms include flushing, fast heartbeat, wheezing, hives, dizziness, stomach upset and diarrhea, collapse, or difficulty swallowing.
How Is It Diagnosed?
If you think that you may have sulfite sensitivity, one way an allergist can diagnose the condition is by doing a food challenge. This involves giving you a very small amount of sulfites and closely observing you for any reaction. If you do not have any symptoms, the amount you are given will slowly be increased. If you do have a reaction, medication will be given to reverse your symptoms and tests can be done to check your lung function. A food challenge should only be done under close supervision by an allergist.
What is the management of sulfite allergy?
There is no evidence that sulfite sensitivity reduces with time. Avoidance is the mainstay of management. There is no proven way of desensitization or immunotherapy to reduce the severity of sulfite sensitivity. Those with relatively mild reactions like mild wheezing should carry their asthma puffers when eating away from home. Those with more serious reactions are managed along the same lines as anyone else with anaphylaxis.
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