Tag Archives: Severe Reactions to Sulfites

Catch-Up Mondays: Sulfites and Me, an Ugly Combination – revisited


This was first posted on January 31, 2013.  This post was the first of a four-part talk about sulfites.  I will be sharing the subsequent posts on the following Catch-Up Mondays.

I talked about sulfite sensitivity recently.  Years ago my husband and I would go to Happy Steak (a place to eat when you were on a budget back in the day).  We would order steak and the salad bar.  It never failed that within hours after eating at the restaurant I would develop horrible symptoms.  My throat would itch, my sinuses would get swollen and congested, and my chest would tighten up.  This was followed by a trip to the bathroom where I could barely sit on the toilet because of the intense feeling I was going to pass out and my body feeling hot.  As if this wasn’t enough, after taking an antihistamine, my nose would run nonstop (imagine a water faucet in your head being turned on to full).  Then I would be freezing cold and just let myself lie on the bathroom floor covered in a blanket or my robe because I didn’t have the energy to move or the desire to be too far from the bathroom.

I visited an allergist out-of-town and mentioned these bizarre symptoms to her and what usually preceded them (usually a trip to a salad bar somewhere).  Wow!  She immediately knew what the culprit was.  She said I had a severe sulfite sensitivity.  She then proceeded to tell me that sulfites where on most items in food bars (lettuce, potatoes, fruit).  I was given a list of what sulfites were, what foods they were in and what to avoid.  At the time, there was a medical facility in La Jolla, a southern California town, where sulfite sensitivity testing was done.  From what I remember of that conversation, I would have to stay there a minimum of a week.  I would be under constant supervision as they tested me by having me ingest sulfites to see the minimum amount that it would take to cause a reaction.  My husband and I talked this over.  Going there would give me a sense of how sensitive and severe my sulfite sensitivity would be.  The only problem was that it really wouldn’t help me in terms of which foods I should/should not avoid.  At the time, sulfites were not required to be disclosed on food labeling.  Rather than make the trip and go through the risk of testing myself, we decided that I would just give up everything on the list.  I am not sure exactly how I came upon a Sulfite Support Group (there were no computer groups back then) but I was able to get a more detailed list and a newsletter in support of dealing with sulfites.

Fast forward several years.  We were having a special dinner with friends in their home followed by cards.  The menu we planned was steak and lobster tail along with baked potatoes and some form of dessert.  We had chosen lobster because Costco was having a seafood special and we were going to buy fresh lobster.  My husband and I were given the task of making the trip to buy the lobster.  We arrived at Costco only to find that they didn’t have fresh lobster.  Our taste buds were crying out for lobster and determined not to leave without it, we browsed and purchased frozen lobster tails.   The evening in the home of our friends had been wonderful, good company and delicious, mouth-watering steak and lobster.  With dinner over, we settled down to cards.  In the midst of our cards, my asthma starting acting up.  I felt kind of flushed and out of sorts.  We left early barely making home when the stomach cramps and congestion kicked in.  I was dying.  Every part of my body was rebelling.  In an attempt to make sense of this I had my husband call to inquire about the lobster packaging.  After digging through the garbage our friends confirmed my fears, the lobster had been preserved in sulfites.

I learned then and there that I needed to be a better label reader.  If I wasn’t sure about a frozen item I needed to avoid it and contact the company and ask questions.  In my next post I will discuss more about what sulfites are, other names of sulfites and what foods contain sulfites.