Signs & symptoms of sulfite allergies

Updated April 17, 2017

Chemical sulphites are added to some medications, foods and beverages to extend their shelf-life and delay spoilage. Although they are usually considered safe, some cause allergic reactions.

Respiratory Symptoms

A person who is sensitive to sulphites can cough, have breathing difficulties including asthma, a runny nose and sneezing. Asthma patients are more sensitive to sulphites and the response to them can range from manageable to extremely severe.

Abdominal & Stomach Problems

Allergies to sulphites can cause nausea, indigestion, an upset stomach or pain in the abdomen, diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting. A sulphite allergy can also make it impossible to digest some foods.

Skin Conditions

Sulphites can cause a skin rash or flushing, itching, swelling or hives. The eyes may also feel itchy or have a burning sensation.

Generalised Symptoms

A person sensitive to sulphites may feel generally unwell, be listless, have a headache or feel dizzy, have a problem with concentration or problems with vision. She also may be depressed.

Anaphylactic Shock

Although sulphite allergy symptoms can be mild to moderate, some people may suffer severe allergic response. The general reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure, extreme breathing problems, and the person may lose consciousness or go into a coma. The condition is life-threatening.

Timing of Symptoms

The reaction to ingesting or inhaling sulphites can occur quickly, often in just minutes after the exposure. In milder cases, the symptoms may take an hour or more to be noticed. Sometimes, however, the body becomes more sensitive and the symptoms will begin to occur sooner or will become worse.


A person who suffers an allergic reaction should see a physician who can treat the condition or help determine the food or beverage that is causing the reaction. It's better to see the doctor so he can see the allergic reaction. And, seeing emergency personnel is vital if the person suddenly develops a severe problem. When the person has trouble breathing, feels as though the throat is swelling, begins to lose consciousness, with a fast pulse, or goes into shock, call 911 immediately.

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About the Author

Rosanne Knorr is an award-winning writer, editor and author since 1980. She has written feature articles for countless publications and has authored 13 books including "The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home." She ghostwrites books on financial and lifestyle topics. She has taught creative writing and speaks on writing and travel topics. Knorr holds a Bachelor of Arts in English.