Various types of food additives and preservatives are added to food for coloring, preserving and flavoring. The additives are typically used in minimal traces but have been suspected of triggering various reactions. Food additives are categorized into the following:
- Antioxidants (BHA and BHT)
- Food coloring and dyes (carmine, tartrazine and annatto)
- Preservatives (nitrates, benzoates and sulfites)
- Flavorings and taste enhancers (spices, MSG and sweeteners)
- Stabilizers and emulsifiers (lecithin and gum)
Occurrence of reactions to food additives and preservatives
It is likely that various reactions to the additives are not identified, the precise rate of the reactions is not known. Nevertheless, several studies have reduced the rate to less than 1% in adults and up to 2% among children.
Typical reactions to food additives
There are various reactions that can occur due to food additives. Some of these indicates an allergic cause while others do not seem to be allergic, but simply an intolerance. The usual reactions to food additives include the following:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Abdominal pain
- Asthma symptoms
- Behavioral and mood changes
- Migraine headaches
- Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Heart palpitations
How an allergy is diagnosed?
A diagnosis of an allergy to food additives is suspected once an individual experiences various reactions to certain foods or while eating at restaurants, but not from foods prepared at home. Take note that various unrelated foods might have common ingredients such as preservatives or food colorings.
Allergy testing might be performed to certain natural substances such as carmine, annatto and saffron. The assessment for artificial substances is not likely or dependable and a trial of a preservative-free diet can support a diagnosis of an allergy to food additives.
In most instances, the only way to actually diagnose an adverse reaction to food additives is to undergo an oral challenge using the suspected additive under medical supervision of an allergist.
Most of the allergic reaction to food additives such as MSG are minor and eventually resolve without requiring treatment. As for severe reactions including angioedema, urticaria, worsening asthma and anaphylaxis, they might require immediate medical care.
Remember that these reactions can be treated similarly as with other food allergies. In case the reactions are severe, it might be necessary for the individual to be prepared to deal with a severe reaction such as carrying an injectable epinephrine at all times and wearing a medical alert bracelet.