Is There a Connection Between Asthma and Food Allergies?

Boy using inhaler

By Kristen Chandler

Many children who have food allergies are also atopic, meaning they have a tendency to develop other allergen triggered reactions including atopic dermatitis (eczema) and asthma.

All three of my children have food allergies. Of the three, two have also had eczema and asthma. One of the two no longer has flare ups of either eczema or asthma. However, my daughter does still have occasional outbreaks of eczema, and we manage her asthma symptoms at home with medication. Although my family’s allergist and I did find a link between food and eczema in one of my kids, we have not been able to directly link the other child’s eczema or either child’s asthma to food allergens.

While children can have food allergies but show no asthma symptoms, and vice versa, in many cases food allergies, asthma and eczema all go hand in hand. So, is it possible that a food allergy is directly causing asthma symptoms in some of these cases? There is not yet any concrete evidence, but many health experts believe that this is indeed possible.

About Asthma

Asthma is a condition where the airway becomes constricted due to temporary inflammation. Symptoms include tightening of the chest, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Asthma is often treated with preventive medication as well as with rescue medication if the airway becomes severely compromised.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Environmental factors such as smoke, pollution, dust, pollen and animal dander
  • Extreme weather changes, cold air and dry heat
  • Exercise
  • Illness such as a cold or flu

Asthma and Food Allergies

While food allergens are not a common asthma trigger, there have been instances that have led some to believe they may play a part in causing symptoms. The most common food-related asthma trigger appears to be sulfites. Sulfites are preservatives that can be found in an array of food and beverages including but not limited to:

  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Pickled foods
  • Packaged potatoes
  • Wine and beer
  • Lime or lemon juice that has been bottled
  • Fresh, frozen or prepared shrimp
  • Many other packaged and processed foods

If you know or suspect that sulfites may be triggering asthma symptoms in yourself or your child, you need to read labels carefully, paying close attention to packaged and processed foods. Particularly watch out for sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium sulfite, potassium metabisulfite and sodium metabisulfite as these are most commonly used in food preparation and packaging.

Other food triggers that have been suspected of causing asthma include milk, eggs, peanuts and shellfish.

Asthma and Anaphylaxis

People who are prone to asthma are more likely to have an anaphylactic reaction. Furthermore, early symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction are similar to those of an asthma attack. If you or your child have what seems to be an asthma attack but your usual asthma medication is not helping, it’s possible that you could actually be experiencing an anaphylactic reaction. If this were to happen, administer epinephrine and immediately seek emergency medical attention.

If you suspect that a food trigger is causing asthma and you or your child have not been tested for allergies, you should contact your doctor or allergist to discuss which steps you should take next. If you know exactly which food is acting as the trigger, it would be best to avoid that food until meeting with your doctor. Most importantly, if you or your child are experiencing any allergy or asthma symptoms, you should always get a doctor’s opinion rather than self-diagnose.

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