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Symptoms
Diagnosis
Management
Epinephrine
Types of Food Allergies
Corn Allergy
Egg Allergy
Eosinophilic Esophagitis
Fish Allergy
Food Additive Intolerance
Meat Allergy
Milk Allergy
Oral Allergy Syndrome
Peanut Allergy
Shellfish Allergy
Soy Allergy
Tree Nut Allergy
Wheat Allergy
Cooking with Food Allergies
Avoidance Measures
FPIES
Find an Allergist

Food Additive Intolerance

Food additives are used to increase shelf life, improve flavors, and change the appearance of many foods.  They include:

  • Artificial colorings and flavorings
  • Antioxidants
  • Preservatives
  • Emulsifiers
  • Sweeteners
  • Flavor enhancers

Some reactions to additives may be similar to food-allergic reactions such as hives and swelling while other symptoms include:

  • Flushing
  • Headaches
  • Chest discomfort
  • Asthma

There are few studies on food additive reactions, but they are estimated to be quite rare (under one percent in adults).  Among people with allergies, the occurrence can range from two to seven percent.

There are thousands of additives, yet a relatively small number seem to cause reactions, including:

  • MSG, associated with headaches
  • Sulfites, which can prompt asthma people with sulfite sensitivity
  • Red (carmine) and yellow (annatto) food coloring, which have been linked to anaphylaxis (a serious reaction that occurs rapidly and may cause death); and
  • Nitrates, which have reportedly caused hives and itching.

Food additive intolerance may be suspected if you have reactions to unrelated foods. Diagnosis can be difficult, because skin tests routinely used in food allergy diagnosis may only be helpful when considering natural, not synthetic additives. There are no allergy tests specifically for food additive intolerance.

Your allergist may ask you to:

  • Avoid certain additives for several weeks to determine the cause of your reactions.
  • Make a complete list of everything you eat and note if you have a reaction.
  • Take a blinded, placebo-controlled oral food challenge to confirm that food additives are causing your reaction. You will be given a series of foods that may or may not contain the additive suspected of causing your reaction.

If you have been diagnosed with food additive intolerance:

  • Avoid the offending ingredient.
  • Read ingredient labels carefully.
  • Be aware that the ingredient may be “hidden” in a food product under terms such as “flavors” or “spices”.  
  • Contact the manufacturer if you have questions.
  • If you cannot be certain of the ingredients, avoid eating that food.
  • If your allergist prescribes an epinephrine auto-injector, carry it with you at all times. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.

Allergy Relief Test

If you or your child has allergies, use the Allergy Relief Self-Test to review your symptoms and see if you need to find relief.

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Anaphylaxis Information

Anaphylaxis is a rare but severe allergic reaction that can be deadly. Learn more about the symptoms and emergency treatment for this dangerous condition.

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Find an Allergist

An allergist is a doctor who has the specialized training and experience to find out what causes your allergies, prevent and treat symptoms, and help keep them under control. Find an allergist in your zip code and find relief.

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