Always consult a health care professional or doctor for all medical advice and support.
Table Of Contents:
What are sulfites?
Sulfites are chemicals that are added preservatives in some foods, beverages, and medications. This preservative slows browning and discoloration while also extending shelf-life. Sulfites also prevent the growth of certain bacteria and are used to maintain the potency and stability of certain medications. Although mainly known as a food additive, sulfites can also occur naturally in foods.
Sulfites are included as one of the top ten priority food allergens by Health Canada and according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 1 in 100 people have a sensitivity to sulfites. Although reactions and symptoms range from mild to life-threatening, many people go through life undiagnosed.
Symptoms Of A Sulfite Sensitivity
"If I had known about sulfites, then I would have been diagnosed years ago. I'm so grateful for my allergist. If it weren't for his help than I would still be experiencing symptoms all the time." - Hailey Martin
The symptoms of having a sensitivity to sulfites include flushing, hives, itchiness, runny nose, stuffy nose, sore throat, fast heartbeat, wheezing, headaches, migraines, dizziness, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, tingling, difficulty swallowing, chest tightness, coughing, trouble breathing, swelling, and in some very rare cases anaphylaxis.
Studies and research show that people who suffer from both asthma and sulfite sensitivity often experience difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing. People who do not have asthma are less likely to experience such severe respiratory reactions.
Diagnosing A Sulfite Sensitivity
Allergists can diagnose someone with a sensitivity to sulfites. Usually, the allergist starts by ruling out other potential causes through a variety of tests including a skin prick test.
Food exclusion and reintroduction is a common method for allergists to diagnose someone with a sensitivity to sulfites.
This is often called a Food Challenge. The allergist starts by removing sulfites from a person’s diet for a specific period of time. Then the foods are slowly reintroduced. This is done under the close supervision of health care professionals to ensure that it's done safely and in a controlled environment. If someone does have a sulfite sensitivity then their symptoms will reflect the removal and reintroduction of sulfites in their diet.
7 Tips For Managing A Sulfite Sensitivity
"It's not just in wine and alcohol, sulfites are in so many foods and drinks. Before I was diagnosed I thought that I was reacting to a whole bunch of foods. In reality my body was only sensitive to one thing; sulfites." - Cathy T
Similar to other food sensitivities, avoidance is the recommended approach when someone has a sensitivity to sulfites. If someone also has asthma, it’s crucial to manage their symptoms as having asthma can increase the severity of their reaction to sulfites. (Some asthma medications contain sulfites)
It's important to always be prepared for accidental exposure or ingestion.
Receive professional medical advice about what to do in an emergency and how to be prepared.
When eating out be mindful of ingredients that are known to contain sulfites.
Ensure that food is cooked and prepared separately from foods that may contain sulfites to avoid accidental cross-contamination.
Carefully read labels to see if sulfites have been listed. If they contain sulfites, then avoid using, ingesting, or being exposed to the product.
Remember to double-check the ingredients (active and inactive) of medications and ask a doctor or pharmacist if medications contain sulfites.
The benefit of adrenaline (epinephrine) to treat anaphylaxis is considered to outweigh the risks from sulfites in an emergency.
Identifying Sulfites On Labels
In 1986, due to severe reactions to sulfites, the FDA put a ban that prohibits the use of sulfites in fresh fruits and vegetables.
When reading labels it's important to remember that each country has its own set of regulations, names, and rules regarding sulfites in foods, medications, and beverages.
The FDA requires sulfites to be declared on food labels when used as an ingredient, as a processing aid, or when present in an ingredient used in the food. Sulfites must also be declared in these situations when the concentration in the food is greater than or equal to 10 ppm in total. Products like alcoholic beverages and fruits that contain less than 10 ppm do not need to include sulfites on the ingredients label.
Possible Sources Of Sulfites
When cooking, remember to keep foods that contain sulfites completely separate from your "sulfite-free dishes". Using the same spoon or pan when cooking can transfer sulfites and impact someone who has a sensitivity to sulfites.
Sulfites are mainly known to be in foods and drinks. However, they're included in some work environments and products. Being aware of cross-contamination is important, as it can also be a possible source of sulfites.
Here are some other possible sources:
Sanitizing Solutions For Home Brewing
Cellophane / Saran Wrap
Vape Juice, Tattoo Ink
Palmolive Dish Soap
Some Vitamins and Supplements
Some Fishing Baits
Cosmetics, Perfumes, Tanning Lotions
Creams, Moisturisers, Cleansers
Hair Colors, Bleaches & Products
Some Work Environments
Foods & Drinks That May Contain Sulfites:
Remember to read labels carefully. Here is a list of some common foods, ingredients, and beverages that either contain sulfites naturally or are known to use sulfites as an additive.
Allergists recommend that people who have a sensitivity to sulfites avoid and keep an eye out for the following:
Processed Foods, Canned Foods, Baked Goods
Dehydrated & Dried Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, Spices, Teas
Cereal, Bread, Trail Mix, Nuts, Granola Bars, Snacks, Candies, Biscuits
Noodle / Rice Mixes
Starches, Corn Starch, Potato Starch
Sugar Syrups, Glucose, Syrup, Dextrose, Corn Syrup, Maple Syrup
French Fries & Potato Chips
Tomato Pastes, Pulps, Purees
Certain Fruits & Vegetables: Grapes, Potatoes, Asparagus, Onions, Garlic
Alcoholic & Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Wine / Beer / Cider
Vinegar / Apple Cider Vinegar
Bottled Lemon / Lime Juice
Fruit & Vegetable Juices
Soft Drinks & Concentrates
Glazed & Confit Foods, Candied Fruits, Maraschino Cherries
Condiments, Jams, Gravies, Sauces, Dips, Dressings, Soup Mixes, Fruit Toppings
Molasses, Gelatin, Preserves, Pectin, Soy Products
Pickled Meats / Vegetables
Deli & Processed Meats, Hot Dogs, Sausages
Shrimp, Shellfish, Seafood
Medications That May Contain Sulfites
Sulfites can be an active or inactive ingredient, and they help maintain the potency and stability of some medications. Other ingredients that already contain sulfites such as gelatin and corn starch are also commonly used in a variety of medications. Some brands use different inactive ingredients, ask a doctor or pharmacist for more information on the inactive and active ingredients for any medications.
Here is a list of some common medications that often contain sulfites:
Some Asthma Medications
Eye Drops, Creams
Adrenaline / Epinephrine
Always consult a medical professional and allergist for medical advice and support. Keep in mind that the lists in this article contain some common products, foods, beverages, sources, and medications that often contain sulfites or naturally contain sulfites. When reading labels it’s important to remember that each country has its own regulations, rules, and names regarding sulfites in medications, cosmetics, and foods.
For More Information About Sulfites