Have you experienced flushing or hives after eating certain foods? Then you may be allergic to food coloring. The major food dyes responsible for food coloring allergies are carmine (red #4), tartrazine (FD&C yellow #5), and annatto.
Carmine gives food products their red color. It’s the most widely used food coloring agent. It is the main dye found in red meat. Those who suffer from a beef allergy could be allergic to carmine. It’s found in burgers, drinks, candy, and some fruit yogurts. Although carmine is considered a natural food coloring agent, the FDA requires it to be labeled on packaging.
Tartrazine is a synthetic food coloring used to imitate the color yellow. It is the second most widely used food coloring agent. It’s found in cosmetics, personal care products, and many foods. Tartrazine causes the most allergic reactions of all the food colorings; the most common symptom is hives (urticaria). The food coloring agent is also known to cause asthma symptoms.
Annatto food coloring comes from the annatto seed. It gives food products their yellow or orange color. People with peanut allergies have reported having reactions to annatto, so there may be some cross-reactivity involved. Annatto is often found in Mexican and Latin American food. Reactions to this food coloring are usually mild.
Food Coloring Allergy Symptoms
- Hives (urticaria) /itchy skin
- Severe headache
- Facial swelling
- Tightness in chest
- Difficulty breathing
Most symptoms of a food coloring allergy are mild, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the necessary steps to treat them. Asthma symptoms can become severe after constant exposure to food coloring in allergic patients. These symptoms need to be treated immediately by a board-certified allergist.
Food Coloring Allergy Diagnosis
It is difficult to diagnose a food coloring allergy without a provocation or elimination test. Provocation allergy testing, also known as a food challenge, is done in a clinical setting. An allergist will expose you to the suspected allergen to see if it evokes an allergic reaction. Food challenges can be dangerous, so your doctor will have emergency medical equipment on hand to treat any symptoms.
In contrast, elimination allergy testing is removing certain foods from your diet to see if allergy symptoms subside. This test usually goes on for several weeks. During this time, it’s helpful to keep a food journal to keep track of everything you eat and drink. This will help diagnose your allergy.
Food Coloring Allergy Treatment
While the best course of action is to visit an allergist, you should also avoid certain foods if you believe you have a food coloring allergy. Check out this food safety guide to learn how to stay safe when dining out. We understand that navigating through any food allergy is difficult; so, we have provided a list of foods that contain major food coloring responsible for allergies along with a list of foods that are free from food coloring.
Foods That May Contain Food Coloring
|Frozen Meat and Fish||Some wines and liqueurs||Jam/Jelly|
|Soft and Fruit Drinks||Hard Candy||Condiments|
|Yogurt||Processed Cheese||Ice Cream|
|Cake Mixes||Crackers/ Chips||Canned Fruit|
Foods That Usually Do Not Contain Food Coloring
|Organic Vegetables||Organic Cheese and other Dairy products||Grains|
|Local Fresh Fish||Rice||Quinoa|
You may also need allergy medication to treat your symptoms of food coloring allergy. Since most symptoms involve contact dermatitis, you’ll need a cortisone cream for treatment. Some creams can be bought over the counter, but it’s best to consult with your allergist before trying new products. Your doctor can also prescribe a cream for you.
Asthma symptoms need to be treated with an inhaled corticosteroid that can only be prescribed by your doctor. If you experience wheezing or difficulty breathing after eating certain foods, book an appointment at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers for treatment.
Food Coloring Allergy Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Be Allergic to Food Coloring?
If you experience hives, flushing, or asthma after eating certain foods, you could be allergic to food coloring. Also, if you’re allergic to peanuts, you may be more at risk of developing a food coloring allergy.
How is Food Coloring Allergy Diagnosed?
In most cases, you will need a food challenge to confirm the diagnosis. This should only be done in a clinical setting with trained medical personnel. You can also try eliminating certain foods from your diet to see if symptoms subside.
How is Food Coloring Allergy Treated?
Antihistamines can treat some of your symptoms. However, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid foods that contain food coloring.
If I’m Allergic to One Food Coloring Agent, Will I Be Allergic to All of Them?
Being allergic to one food coloring agent does not guarantee an allergy to all of them. Most individuals are only sensitive to one type. Visit an allergist to determine which food colorings you might be allergic to.
Is Food Coloring Allergy Curable?
No, food coloring allergy is not curable. The condition can be managed by eating an organic diet and taking antihistamines. Talk to a food allergy specialist to see what foods are for you to eat.
Which Food Coloring Agent Causes the Most Allergic Reactions?
Tartrazine, the yellow food dye, causes the most allergic reactions. It causes contact dermatitis, asthma symptoms, and flushing in the face.
Why Are People Allergic to Food Coloring?
There’s not a specific cause of food coloring allergy. Certain individuals just show a sensitivity to products containing certain food coloring. The allergy is rare but more sensitivities are being reported.
If you have a food coloring allergy, it is important to read all the labels of the products you are consuming. The allergists at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers can help you determine which food coloring agents to steer clear of. We have easy access to the latest technology to diagnose and relieve your headaches, itchy skin, and other symptoms related to food coloring allergy. We also offer personalized treatment plans to our patients in six convenient offices throughout Manhattan and queens. Call 212-686-4448 to book your appointment today.