Food Allergies and Asthma

What's the connection between food allergies and asthma?

Asthma is very rarely triggered by food. Regardless of whether or not you have asthma, any abnormal reaction to a food is considered an adverse reaction. Adverse reactions are classified either as food intolerance or food allergy.

Food allergy is defined as an abnormal reaction by the body's immune system to proteins in foods that usually are safe or harmless. Your doctor can perform specific tests on your skin to determine whether you are sensitive to certain foods.

Food intolerance is an abnormal response of the body to an ingested food that is not an allergy. Examples of this are food poisoning, reactions to chemicals in food or drinks such as caffeine, or reflux.

The most common symptoms of food allergy are hives, rash, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Asthma may be triggered by foods, but this is rare. The most common foods associated with allergic symptoms are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (cashews, almonds, and filberts, for example)
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Although rare, food additives (sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite) can also trigger asthma. These additives are used as preservatives in food processing or preparation and can be found in the following foods:

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

Some sources state that other food additives (food colorings or dyes, preservatives such as nitrites and nitrates, and the artificial sweetener aspartame) can also trigger asthma, but there is no scientific evidence to back this up.

If you suspect that certain foods may be triggering your asthma, discuss this with your doctor. Allergy skin testing can be done to determine if you are allergic to these foods. Avoiding the food is the best way to prevent asthma reactions. It is important to read food labels and, when dining out, ask how foods are prepared.


WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 16, 2017
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