Sulfite sensitivity is an abnormal reaction to sulfites. These are compounds that are used to make foods and beverages last longer.
Foods that may contain sulfites are:
- Beer, wine, and soft drinks
- Cookies, crackers, pie crust, and pizza crust
- Dried fruit
- Shrimp, lobster, and scallops
- French fries and other food made with peeled potatoes, such as instant mashed potatoes
- Fruit or vegetable juice
- Canned fruits or vegetables
- Syrup and fruit toppings
- Pickles, relish, olives, and salad dressing
- Noodle or rice mixes
- Dried soup mixes
- Deli meats, mincemeat, sausages
Many prescription and over the counter medicines also contain sulfites. Sulfites are also contained in products applied to the skin, such as cosmetics.
The cause of this problem is not known. Genetics and the environment may play a role.
The risk factors for this health problem are not known. However, most people with sulfite sensitivity have asthma.
Most symptoms are mild and vary from person to person. Problems may be:
- Shortness of breath
- Belly pain
- Skin rash
- Skin inflammation
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to see a doctor who treats allergies.
Blood tests will be done to look for antibodies to sulfites. An allergy skin test may also be done to look for a cause.
You may be asked to avoid certain foods or beverages for a short period of time to see if symptoms go away. This is called an elimination diet. It can help find out what is causing your symptoms.
There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. This can only be done by avoiding foods and drinks that contain sulfites. A dietitian can help. This will mean reading food and drug labels carefully. Special care will also need to be taken when eating out.
Medicines may be advised to ease symptoms. Choices are:
- An inhaler that contains medicine to open the airways
Some people may need to carry an epinephrine pen. It can be used to inject medicine to treat a severe reaction.
There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.
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Food allergy. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/food-allergy. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Sulfite sensitivity. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11323-sulfite-sensitivity. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Sulfites: FDA guide to foods and drugs with sulfites. The Extension Toxicology Network website. Available at: http://extoxnet.orst.edu/faqs/additive/sulf_tbl.htm. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Sulfites: separating fact from fiction. University of Florida website. Available at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy731. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 3/25/2021