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Asthma Health Center

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Food Allergies and Asthma

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While it's not common for food allergies to cause asthma symptoms, food allergies can cause a severe life-threatening reaction in some people. The most common foods associated with allergic symptoms are:

  • Eggs
  • Cow's milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shrimp and other shellfish
  • Tree nuts

Food Preservatives and Asthma

Food preservatives can also trigger an asthma attack. Additives, such as sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite, are commonly used in food processing or preparation and can be found in foods such as:

  • Dried fruits or vegetables
  • Potatoes (packaged and some prepared)
  • Wine and beer
  • Bottled lime or lemon juice
  • Shrimp (fresh, frozen, or prepared)
  • Pickled foods

Symptoms of Food Allergies and Asthma

In most people, the usual symptoms of food allergies are hives, rash, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you have food allergies that trigger symptoms of an asthma attack, you will likely experience these allergy symptoms, followed by coughing and wheezing. And if not caught quickly, anaphylaxis -- swelling of the throat, cutting off the airway -- may result.

If you suspect that certain foods are asthma triggers for you, discuss this with your doctor. Allergy skin tests can be done to determine if you are allergic to these foods.

What Do I Do If I Have Food Allergies and Asthma?

Avoid the Food Trigger. Try not to come into contact with the food you are allergic to. Avoiding food triggers can be challenging. It is important to always read food labels and, when dining out, ask how foods are prepared.

Consider Allergy Shots. The second thing you can do is to train your immune system to not overreact. Doctors do this by giving you allergy shots (immunotherapy) for asthma. An allergy shot is a small amount of the substance that causes your allergy. By giving repeated shots of the substance over a period of time, your immune system eventually stops causing the allergic reaction. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for allergy shots. Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) is an alternative to allergy shots. The medicine is dissolved under your tongue instead of through a shot.

Keep epinephrine with you. If your allergies are severe, you should keep two epinephrine injection kits with you at all times and readily available. If you experience any sign of anaphylaxis, do not hesitate to use the epinephrine auto-injector, even if those symptoms do not appear to be allergy related. Using the auto-injector as a precaution will not harm you and could save you. Dial 911 after being injected.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 19, 2015
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