Plagued by Asthma? Avoid Sulfite-Laden Foods

A common additive to food and medicine, sulfites help to prevent browning in certain foods, and they impede the growth of bacteria during the process of wine fermentation. Sulfites also enhance conditioning of dough for pizza and pie crusts, prevent spoilage by bacteria and mold, and they preserve the potency of certain medicines, including those for asthma.

For most people, sulfites are safe to consume, even in large amounts. However, some people are allergic to sulfites, and if those individuals also have asthma, it can be life threatening. Statistics show that five to ten percent of people with asthma are allergic to sulfites. Because the allergy exacerbates the symptoms of asthma, there is a possibility of anaphylactic shock.

It is not clearly understood why sulfites cause reactions in certain people. Some human bodies manufacture antibodies against sulfites, and apparently, others do not. Some experts believe that these allergies could be the result of an inability to metabolize sulfites, and others believe that gases produced by sulfites may cause spasms in the lungs.

When a person experiences an allergic reaction to sulfites, the severity and symptoms can vary. Here are symptoms that can occur.

  • Dizziness
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Flushing
  • Hives or itching
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea or vomiting

People with asthma can be tested for a sulfite allergy through their doctor. This test, called a controlled sulfite challenge, exposes the patient to small doses of sulfites to determine if there is a reaction under careful and safe supervision. There are supplements for lung health that people with asthma can take as well.

There are sulfite-free forms of asthma medicine available if a person tests positive for a sulfite allergy.However, food choices can be a more difficult problem. As mentioned, some foods contain added sulfites, but they also naturally occur in certain foods.

Federal law mandates that sulfites cannot be added to foods that are eaten raw, like fruits and vegetables.However, when shopping for produce, remember that sulfites naturally occur in asparagus, chives, garlic, lettuce, leeks, onions and tomatoes. Other products that contain naturally-occurring sulfites are corn starch, eggs, fish (like salmon and dried cod), maple syrup and soy.

Federal law also says that sulfites must be listed on the label when added to foods. Check labels on all foods, but these in particular:

  • apple cider and other types of cider
  • beer and wine
  • condiments, jams, molasses
  • corn starch and gravies
  • avocado dip
  • pickled vegetables and meats
  • dried fruits and vegetables
  • bottled fruit juices and vegetable juices
  • fruit topping and maraschino cherries
  • peeled potatoes (canned and frozen)
  • shrimp and shellfish

It is also important to be aware of sulfites in restaurant food. If a restaurant cannot provide an answer to whether or not a food contains sulfites, it is better to be safe than sorry. Potatoes are a key concern, so individuals with a sulfite allergy should avoid all potato products in restaurants except for baked potatoes with intact skins.

When leaving home, it is wise for asthma sufferers with a sulfites allergy to always carry a quick-relief inhaler and wear a Medic-Alert bracelet. If you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction to sulfites, activate your inhaler, and get immediate help.

If you want to try alternatives to improve your lung health, there are some options out there. For example, you can take vitamins for lung health. Second Wind from the Institute for Vibrant Living is an herbal lung health supplement that may help expand constricted airways caused by asthma and other occasional cough conditions.


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