Additive Sensitivities

Additive Sensitivities

Also called: Additive Allergies


Additive sensitivity is a reaction that may occur when an individual consumes or comes into contact with a food additive – an ingredient that is not considered a part of a food’s basic raw ingredients.

A reaction to an additive may be triggered when the additive is ingested or comes into contact with the skin. It is unknown what mechanism causes symptoms to appear in the body.

Additives are found in a variety of foods. They include:

  • Flavor enhancers
  • Added nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals
  • Preservatives
  • Stabilizers, emulsifiers and thickeners
  • Food colorings
  • Artificial sweeteners

Some cosmetics contain additives also found in foods and may be able to cause a reaction when they come into contact with the skin.

Though additive sensitivities are reported by many people, there is currently only clinical proof that confirms the existence of sulfite allergies. More research is required before other sensitivities can be recognized by the medical community.

Sulfite allergies are an allergic reaction to the commonly used additive sulfites. Like other types of food allergies, sulfite allergies are capable of causing symptoms such as hives, breathing problems and even life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Though sulfites were heavily used in some foods in the recent past, their use is now strictly limited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Reactions caused by additives other than sulfites are considered food intolerances. Food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy, which always involves the response of the immune system. Despite the difference, some of the reactions from food additives are reported to be similar to those of food allergies.

Individuals who believe they may have an additive sensitivity should avoid that additive and consult their physician. Managing additive sensitivities involves first identifying the specific ingredient that triggers the response, then working carefully to avoid further contact with that ingredient. Most of the prevention occurs at supermarkets and restaurants, where informed individuals must carefully avoid any additives that may trigger a response.  The FDA is working to identify the additives that are most frequently reported to cause a response so that they can be more effectively identified on food labels.

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