Common allergen found in many foods and products
This allergy is a most annoying one, if you happen to like wine. Many wines make use of sulfites as a preservative. You might even discover your sulfite allergy because of a bad reaction to wine.
You might think that sulfites must be a relatively recent addition to our diet. After all, sulfites are a chemical and we think of chemical additives as a modern occurrence. In fact, sulfites have been used since Roman times! Sulfites help to keep the flavor and color of food as well as reduce bacterial growth. In general, sulfites help to increase shelf life.
The most common reaction to sulfites is an asthma-like reaction. If you already have asthma, this can be very disconcerting, especially if your asthma is generally well controlled. It can also mask the sulfite allergy, unfortunately, as the asthma sufferer may simply think that their asthma is "acting up".
In most cases, a sulfite allergy will be more annoying than dangerous. Anaphylactic reaction to sulfites is fairly rare. However, you could have symptoms that include flushing, fast heartbeat, wheezing or breathing changes, stomach and digestive upset, and even difficulty swallowing.
Diagnosing sulfite sensitivity can be a challenge. The vast majority of people who actually react to sulfites will find that they test negative on an allergy test. Currently, there isn't a completely reliable medical test for such patients. However, a history of reacting to sulfites is enough to warn those who are sensitive to avoid the chemicals!
The difficulty with sulfites is that they can be used as a preservative in all kinds of foods. In most countries, you will find sulfites in beer and wines; the ingredient may or may not be on the label. As a result, accidental exposure can be a challenge. If you are trying to avoid hidden sulfites, you'll need to be on the lookout with these foods:
- Some fruit juices as well as beer and wine. Some carbonated beverages will have sulfites. Instant tea may as well.
- If you buy already squeezed lemon and lime juice, vinegar or grape juice, expect sulfites.
- Processed foods may use sulfites. Always check ingredients!
- Dried fruits such as apricots or coconut may be treated with sulfites.
- Ask when eating prepared food. Restaurant salads and fruit salads may have sulfites added to preserve their color.
- Shellfish may be treated with sulfites to stop discoloring.
Your best bet, as with all allergies, is to carefully read labels. When in doubt, contact the food company if you are unsure of ingredients.