Date of this Version
The American Journal of Medicine 81 (November 1986), pp. 816–820.
Ingestion of sulfiting agents can induce wheezing in some asthmatic patients. However, neither the prevalence of sulfite sensitivity nor the clinical characteristics of the affected asthmatic population are known. In a prospective single-blind screening study, 120 non-steroid-dependent and 83 steroid-dependent asthmatic patients underwent challenge with oral capsules of potassium metabisulfite. Five non-steroid-dependent and 16 steroid-dependent asthmatic patients experienced a greater than 20 percent reduction in their one-second forced expiratory volume within 30 minutes following the oral challenge. Twelve of these sulfite reactors were rechallenged with metabisulfite capsules in a double-blind protocol. Under these conditions, only three of seven steroid-dependent patients had a positive response. Moreover, only one of five non-steroid-dependent patients had a response to double-blind challenge. On the basis of this challenge study, the best estimate of the prevalence of sulfite sensitivity in the asthmatic patients studied is 3.9 percent. This population, however, contained a larger number of steroid-dependent asthmatic patients than would be found in the general asthmatic population. It is concluded, therefore, that the prevalence of sulfite sensitivity in the asthmatic population as a whole would be less than 3.9 percent and that steroid-dependent asthmatic patients are most at risk.