I frequently encounter patients in my clinic who wonder if they are allergic to MSG. Most of these people describe a situation in which they were eating at an Asian restaurant, after which they experienced a sensation of feeling flushed along with mild shortness of breath and chest tightness. Usually, the symptoms are mild and resolve within a short period of time and without treatment. And yet, these reactions are so distressing as to cause the person to avoid Asian restaurants for fear of MSG allergy.
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer added to various foods, but can also be present in foods naturally. Reactions to MSG have been previous called the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome," although are now referred to as the "MSG Symptom Complex". Symptoms are often mild and can include numbness and tingling on the arms and neck, palpitations and drowsiness. Other symptoms may include headaches, nausea, chest pain and worsening asthma symptoms.