Sulfite Sensitivity

Sulfite sensitivity—what is it and why is it important to manage, especially if you have asthma?

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are a type of preservative used in some foods, drinks and medicines. They also help to prevent food going brown.

Sulfite sensitivity and asthma

Some people have a sensitivity to sulfites.This sensitivity is more common in people living with asthma, but people without asthma can also have a sulfite sensitivity. Approximately 5–10% of people living with asthma are thought to have sulfite sensitivity. Common symptoms are wheezing, chest tightness and coughing. In people with asthma, reactions to sulfites are more likely when their asthma is not well controlled.

How can I find out if I have a sulfite sensitivity?

If you believe you may have a sulfite sensitivity, it is important that you see a clinical immunology/allergy specialist who will assess you for sulfite sensitivity so that an appropriate management plan can be developed.

Can you experience anaphylaxis to sulfites?

Anaphylaxis to sulfites is very rare, but can happen. Symptoms can include flushing; tingling; fast heartbeat; wheezing; hives; stomach upset and diarrhoea; dizziness; collapse; or difficulty swallowing.

Should I carry an asthma reliever—e.g. Ventolin—when eating out?

People with relatively mild reactions to sulfites, such as mild wheezing, should carry asthma relievers when eating away from home. People who are at risk of more serious reactions should have an ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis and carry at least one prescribed adrenaline (epinephrine) injector (such as EpiPen®, Anapen®).

The ASCIA website has some very helpful information on how to avoid sulfites, seeing an allergist to be assessed, and how to manage sulfite sensitivity.

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