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Food additives are substances that are added to foods and drinks to enhance flavors, add color or texture, or to extend its shelf life. Common food additives include:

  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Flavorings and taste enhancers
  • Food dyes and coloring
  • Preservatives

While food additives are a very small component of some foods and drinks, some people are sensitive to them. Symptoms commonly include digestive trouble, respiratory issues, and/or skin reactions. 


Reactions to food additives are different for everyone, but symptoms usually begin within two hours of eating a trigger food. The most common symptoms of an adverse reaction to food additives include:

  • Skin reactions, such as hives, eczema, or swelling, especially around the face and lips
  • Digestive issues, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Breathing trouble
  • Coughing or wheezing


The most commonly known food additives that cause adverse reactions include:

  • Sulfites: Sulfites or sulfate agents are common preservatives used in various foods and medications.
  • Parabens: Parabens are used to preserve foods and medications. They can also be found in sunscreens, deodorants, and shampoos.
  • Tartrazine: A yellow dye most commonly used in beverages, candy, ice cream, desserts, cheese, canned vegetables, and hot dogs.
  • Carmine: A red food coloring found in various cosmetics, drinks, red yogurt, gum and red popsicles.
  • Aspartame: A sweetener used in many sugar-free foods and drinks. This food additive has been known to cause symptoms such as headaches, seizures, and urticaria.


Many reactions to food additives are mild and typically resolve without treatment. More severe reactions, including worsening asthma or anaphylaxis, may require immediate medical attention. 

The best way to prevent a reaction is to know and avoid the specific additive in certain foods and drinks that cause signs and symptoms. For minor reactions, one can take over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines to reduce symptoms. For a severe reaction, the person may need to carry an emergency injection of epinephrine (Epi-Pen).

 With allergy skin testing, patch testing and/or blood testing, we can discover hidden triggers, confirm suspected triggers, and provide additional treatments, including immunotherapy if appropriate. 

If you experience symptoms that you think could be related to food additives, contact Northeast Allergy, Asthma & Immunology today to schedule your appointment.

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