Foods That Cause Asthma Attacks

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Common Food Allergies

Just like environmental allergens such as pollen and pet dander can irritate the respiratory system in someone who has asthma, food allergies can also bring on an attack. The most common foods that can trigger allergies are: eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Along with increased wheezing and shortness of breath, other symptoms typical of a food allergy are skin rashes, hives or gastrointestinal symptoms. If you are not sure which food groups are a problem for you, ask your doctor or allergist for help. You could be tested under safe circumstances and know for certain what you should avoid.

Another dietary trigger are sulfites, which are a family of chemicals commonly used as preservatives in wine, dried fruit and other foods. Look for ingredients like sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium sulfite or potassium metabisulfite.


Because grapes naturally contain sulfites, and additional sulfites may be added as preservatives, it’s mandatory for vintners to put a warning on their labels. Sulfite-free wine does exist, but it’s difficult to find. You may be better off avoiding it completely, rather than be sorry and suffering afterwards.

Dried Fruit

Some manufacturers offer dried fruit without sulfites, but again, this would be on the label with language like, “No Sulfites” (obviously), or something more cryptic like “No SOS”. One good clue that the dried fruit contains sulfites is if it’s brightly colored. Sulfites prevent discoloration in dried fruits, making them more appealing to consumers.

Other Dietary Sources of Sulfites

Another sulfite trap is the produce section of your local supermarket. Reacting to safety concerns voiced in 1984, the FDA forbade the use of sulfites on pre-bagged lettuce in salad bars and produce sections. One loophole remains: potatoes. Some prepackaged potatoes, raw or cooked, could contain sulfites. You may want to skip the French fries just in case, unless you make them yourself.

Sulfites also appear in many prepared foods, so be sure to read labels. These include fresh or frozen shrimp, bottled lime or lemon juices, and pickled foods, among others. Also, they are often used in over-the-counter and prescription medications. If you are very sensitive to sulfites, check the labels or contact the manufacturer. Your local compounding pharmacist can prepare additive-free prescription medications.

Food Additives

While scientific evidence is sketchy, some have suggested that food additives such as monosodium glutamate, BHT, nitrites and NutraSweet (aspartame) have triggered asthma attacks. Until we know more, you may want to limit the processed foods in your diet.

If you are aware of the foods that cause asthma attacks, it is easier to avoid them, and easier to prevent another miserable or even dangerous bout of wheezing.


WebMD, “Food Allergies and Asthma”

Food Insight, “Everything You Need to Know About Asthma & Food”

Jacksonville Wine Guide, “Sulfites: The Cause Behind The Red Wine Headache?”

Food Marketing Institute, “Sulfites”