Could You Be Allergic to Sulfites?

What Are Sulfites?

dinner meal eating 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 beer and wine. In addition, some medications contain sulfites, which work to keep the drugs stable and effective. Sulfites are also used in cosmetics.

Are Sulfites Safe?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labels sulfites as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in a variety of products. But, there are restrictions on how these agents can be used. For instance, the FDA does not allow this preservative on the raw veggies that you find at your favorite salad bar, since sulfites would make the veggies look fresh when they might not be.And since the 1980s, the FDA has made companies identify food, drinks, and medications that do contain sulfites. Why the need for this labeling? The FDA made the ruling after reports came in that people were having allergic—in some cases severe—reactions after eating or drinking a product containing sulfites.

What Is Sulfite Sensitivity?

You are considered to be sensitive to sulfites if you have an allergic reaction after consuming or applying this preservative. The symptoms, which range from mild to severe, can include:
  • Skin problems—itchy skin, rash, hives
  • Digestive problems—stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea
  • Respiratory problems—wheezing, cough, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest
In extreme situations, a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock may occur, where the person is not able to breathe and experiences a drop in blood pressure.How common is this sensitivity? Actually, the FDA estimates that the number of Americans who are allergic to sulfites is low. But people with asthma seem to have a higher risk of experiencing a reaction to these chemicals.

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