Date of this Version
Published in ISI Atlas of Science: Immunology 1:1 (1988), pp. 254–258.
Sulfiting agents, including sodium and potassium bisulfite, sodium and potassium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite, and sulfur dioxide, have enjoyed widespread use as food and drug ingredients. The oral ingestion of these sulfiting agents is now known to trigger asthma in a small subset of the asthmatic population. The best evidence suggests that perhaps 150,000 to 200,000 individuals in the United States may be sulfite sensitive. Although the mechanism of sulfite-induced asthma remains unknown, several possibilities have been considered, including inhalation of sulfur dioxide (SO2) while swallowing, an IgE-mediated reaction, and a deficiency of sulfite oxidase leading to impaired sulfite metabolism and excretion. The only treatment for sulfite sensitivity is avoidance of sulfites in foods and drugs.