Sulphites are widely used as preservative and antioxidant additives in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Exposure to sulphites has been reported to induce a range of adverse clinical effects in sensitive individuals, ranging from dermatitis, urticaria, flushing, hypotension, abdominal pain and diarrhoea to life-threatening anaphylactic and asthmatic reactions. Exposure to the sulphites arises mainly from the consumption of foods and drinks that contain these additives; however exposure may also occur through the use of pharmaceutical products, as well as in occupational settings. Most studies report a prevalence of sulphite sensitivity of 3 to 10% among asthmatic subjects who ingest these additives. However, the severity of these reactions varies, and steroid-dependent asthmatics, those with marked airway hyperresponsiveness, and children with chronic asthma, appear to be at greater risk. Although a number of potential mechanisms have been proposed, the precise mechanisms underlying sulphite sensitivity remain unclear.
Keywords: Asthma; Food additive; Sulphites.