Foods That Can Trigger Asthma Attacks

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on September 15, 2023
3 min read

Foods rarely trigger an asthma attack. But the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to some foods can mimic asthma symptoms. The first step is to know if you have a food allergy. Any abnormal reaction to a food is considered an adverse reaction. Adverse reactions can either be:

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 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


For 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 have these allergy symptoms, followed by coughing and wheezing. And if not caught quickly, anaphylaxis -- swelling of the throat, cutting off your airway -- may result.

If you suspect certain foods are asthma triggers for you, talk to your doctor. They can give you allergy skin tests to find out if you’re allergic to these foods.

There are simple ways to say safe:

  • Avoid the food trigger. Try not to come into contact with the food you’re allergic to. Always read labels and ask how foods are prepared when you eat out.
  • Consider allergy shots. They can train your immune system to not overreact. The doctors will give you allergy shots (immunotherapy) -- a small amount of the substance that causes your allergy. After repeated shots over a period of time, your immune system eventually stops causing the allergic reaction. Ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for allergy shots. Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is an alternative to allergy shots. You let the medicine dissolve under your tongue instead of getting a shot.
  • Keep epinephrine with you. If your allergies are severe, you should keep two epinephrine shot kits with you that are always easy to get to. If you have any sign of anaphylaxis, don’t hesitate to use the epinephrine auto-injector, even if you aren’t sure your symptoms are allergy-related. Using the auto-injector as a precaution won’t hurt you and might save you. Dial 911 after you give yourself the shot.


Children who have both asthma and food allergies are more likely to have both near-fatal or fatal allergic reactions to food and severe asthma, particularly if the asthma isn’t well-controlled. Food allergies can make persistent asthma more likely in young children.