Foods That Trigger Asthma

If you do surveys, somewhere up to 70% of people with asthma believe that some foods can trigger their asthma. But if you test BLINDFOLDED adults with disguised food, so that even the people running the test don’t know what’s in the food until the end of the test (so-called double-blind testing), then less than 5% will get asthma.

So the prevalence of food-induced asthma is actually quite low. But it can be important, and there is no doubt that a few people will get sudden and very severe asthma with certain foods.

There are three types of food allergy.


In this type, there is true, full-blown, immediate allergy to a certain food protein. Examples include those people who get swelling of the mouth and throat, often with hives or even collapse, to foods such as peanuts, other nuts, fish, shellfish, seeds such as sesame, or (usually in infants) milk or egg. Asthma may accompany these severe reactions, and in fact the asthma response is part of anaphylaxis in these situations. There is another post on this site that lists anaphylaxis resources.

THOSE FOODS CAUSING THE ALLERGY MUST BE AVOIDED. Often adrenaline (called epinephrine in the USA) is carried for emergencies (a common example is EpiPen). If you have this type of life-threatening allergy, especially if you have asthma, speak to your doctor about getting assessed.


Sulfite (also called metabisulfite or additive 220 and similar numbers) is added to foods as a preservative. The types of foods that may contain this chemical include salad dressings, sauces, wines, dried fruits. Other foods can contain sulfite and the chemical is listed as an additive.

When you eat these foods, the sulfite (which has morphed into a gas called sulfur dioxide) is breathed in. Normally quite harmless in those concentrations, the sulfite may trigger wheezing in an asthma sufferer, ESPECIALLY IF THE ASTHMA IS POORLY CONTROLLED. The subsequent asthma attack can range from trivial to very serious.

If you still wheeze with this additive despite well-controlled asthma, then a full assessment is suggested. Speak to your doctor.


Some people say that other food additives, such as colours, other preservatives, or MSG, cause their asthma. Others report that certain foods (such as yeast, wheat or dairy products) cause fatigue, rash, headache, or asthma, for example. These types of disorders are often called food intolerance. The prevalence of these disorders is very low, although there are a few people who do suffer.

We performed the first double-blind study in the world on dairy and asthma in 1998, but could not demonstrate a definite link. (Note: We were looking at food intolerance, NOT true sudden food allergy). In real life, there are exceptions, but the association is very uncommon.

Also, in a rigorous study, also in 1998, we also failed to show that MSG triggered an asthma attack. Again, there are rare exceptions, but the perception is much higher than reality.

There are no reliable blood, skin, urine, hair or machine tests for this type of allergy. The only reliable test is an avoidance diet followed by a scientific challenge (eating a specified quantity of the food). THIS SHOULD ONLY BE DONE UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION, AND SOMETIMES IT IS DONE IN HOSPITAL.


The first step is to control your asthma. Remember that your asthma is out of control if you use a reliever/rescue puffer more than three times a week, or if you wake at night and need a reliever/rescue puffer. Swing into your action plan and see your doctor. There is a post on this site that may help.

If you feel foods trigger your asthma, then please do not rely on unscientific tests for food allergy listed in my other post. These bizarre tests will overestimate your food intolerance. Your asthma is too important for that, and also you will unnecessarily restrict your diet (or, more importantly,  your child’s diet). Speak to your doctor.


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