Can You Be Allergic to Wine?

If you’re like us, you may have been inspired to have a few extra glasses (or bottles?) of wine these past couple months 😉. But did you know that some people are allergic?

Technically, these individuals are allergic or sensitive to the sulfites in the wine. A sulfite allergy or sensitivity is particularly challenging because sulfites are virtually invisible. With many food allergens you can tell when they’re lurking—but not with this one. 

In today’s blog, we’re going to shine a light on this invisible threat. 

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are chemicals in foods that form naturally in some and are added as a preservative in others to extend a food’s shelf life. They prevent fungal and bacteria growth. Unsurprisingly, most foods with added sulfites are processed and packaged.

Sulfites are also a product of the fermentation process in wine and beer. Fun fact: sulfites prevent fruits from browning and wine from turning into vinegar! Are there sulfites in beer?! You betcha! 

How common is a sulfite allergy or sensitivity? 

1 in 100 people are sensitive to sulfites, according to the FDA. A true sulfite allergy, however, is rare—most only have a sensitivity.

According to Dr. Jordan Scott, one of our allergist advisors, sulfite sensitivities appear to be on the rise. “I’m now treating approximately three patients a month for sensitivities to sulfite, which is definitely an increase from years past.”

“The toughest part about diagnosing a sulfite allergy is that there’s no test we can use—it’s a diagnosis by the history of exposures and often excluding other food allergies,” says Dr. Scott.

Sulfites in food: what products contain them? 

There are lots of foods that contain sulfites—some more than others. They’re mostly found in processed foods. Below we’ve compiled a list of foods that commonly contain them:  

  • Beer and wine

  • Baked goods

  • Canned and dried fruits & veggies

  • Pickled foods & jams

  • Processed or canned meat and fish

  • Potato chips, trail mix, and granola bars

  • Fruit and vegetable juices, teas, and apple cider

  • Condiments

  • Frozen and canned seafood

  • Beet sugar and molasses

Sulfites may also occur naturally in foods such as:

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Maple syrup

  • Asparagus

  • Eggs

  • Corn starch

  • Soy

  • Tomatoes 

  • Lettuce

  • Leeks

  • Chives 

How are sulfites listed on food labels? 

The FDA requires that any food containing more than 10 parts-per-million (ppm) of sulfites must state “contains sulfites” on the label. Less than 10 ppm of sulfites have not been shown to cause symptoms, even in those who are allergic. There are also upper limit restrictions to the amount of sulfites wine may contain—in the EU it’s 210 ppm and in the US it’s 350 ppm.

When you’re reading a label, be on the lookout for one of these common names for sulfites:

  • Sulfur dioxide

  • Potassium sulfite, potassium metabisulfite, or potassium hydrogen sulfite  

  • Sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, or sodium sulfite 

  • Sulfite ammonia caramel

  • Caustic sulfite caramel 

  • -Calcium sulfite, calcium hydrogen sulfite 

What are the most common sulfite allergy symptoms? 

The severity of symptoms for a sulfite allergy or sensitivity can vary. The most common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness

  • Flushing

  • Hives and itchiness

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Drop in blood pressure

  • Trouble breathing

  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting 

If you have asthma, a sulfite allergy or sensitivity can be life-threatening and lead to anaphylactic shock. According to the AAAAI, as many as 5-10% of sulfite-induced reactions are fatal in people who have asthma. 

Do all wines contain sulfites?

There is no such thing as 100% sulfite-free wine. Sulfites develop naturally as a by-product of fermentation. Sulfites that are naturally occurring are generated in very small amounts, ranging from 6-40 ppm. Winemakers often add tiny amounts (ppm ranges) of additional sulfites to prevent the wine from oxidizing or spoiling. Interestingly, most wines with added sulfites contain 25-150 ppm.

It’s a popular thought that red wines contain more sulfites than white wines. Unfortunately, both wines contain sulfites. However, reds typically contain lower sulfite levels because of their higher tannin concentrations. Tannins are polyphenols from the stems, skin, and seeds of grapes, and are naturally occurring preservatives, which reduces the need for adding sulfites. 

There are some wines that are (almost) sulfite-free, and less likely to trigger symptoms in sensitive populations. Pro tip: it helps to decant your wine in a large decanter, which allows the excess sulfur dioxide (sulfites) in the wine to escape before you drink it. 

Do you have an allergy to sulfites or a sulfite intolerance? We’d love to hear your story, please share your experience below!

– Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team 

Adults and Food Allergies, Food Allergy Awareness, Food Allergy Education, Food Allergy Laws, Food Allergy Statistics, Food Industry, Health & Wellness, Outings + Food Allergies, COVID-19, Rare Allergies, Restaurant + Food Allergy, Traveling + Food Allergy, Special Dietary Needs, Sulfites, Allergen SpecificMeg Nohesulfites, sulfite allergy, sulfite sensitivity, sulfite allergy symptoms, sulfites and asthma, COVID-19, COVID, coronavirus, what are sulfites, how common is a sulfite allergy, sulfites in foods, are sulfites listed on food labels, food allergy labeling laws, do all wines contain sulfites, sulfites in wine, food allergies, food sensitivities, food intoleranceComment

+ There are no comments

Add yours