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Could I Have a Red Dye Allergy?

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Updated June 17, 2014

Question: Could I Have a Red Dye Allergy?
Answer: While it is possible for a person to have a red dye allergy or other food coloring allergy, this is rare. I often see patients in my clinic who report allergic reactions after consuming food coloring, although this is often difficult to prove. Allergy testing is possible to food colorings, although extracts of the various food colorings may be difficult to obtain. The following are the most common food colorings that have been reported to cause allergic reactions:

Tartrazine. Also known as FD&C Yellow Dye #5, tartrazine has been suspected as the cause of many reactions, including urticaria (hives) and worsening asthma and eczema. Recent studies, however, have disproven the theory that aspirin-allergic asthmatics were allergic to tartrazine.

Find out how to follow a tartrazine-free diet.

Carmine. Carmine is a red dye food coloring made from a dried insect called Dactylopius coccus Costa, which can be found on prickly pear cactus plants. This coloring is also found in various cosmetics, drinks, red yogurt and popsicles. Reactions to carmine are truly allergic in nature.

Annatto. Annatto is a yellow dye food coloring made from the seeds of a South American tree, Bixia orellana. This additive has been found to cause allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis and urticaria.

Saffron. This yellow dye food coloring, obtained from the flower of the Crocus sativa plant, has been reported as a cause of anaphylaxis.

Many other food colorings are less common, but possible, causes of allergic reactions. These include sunset yellow (yellow #6), amaranth (red #2), erythrosine (red #3), and quinoline yellow, among others. Severe reactions are treated much the same way as other food allergies. If reactions are severe, it may be necessary for a person to be prepared for a severe reaction (such as carrying injectable epinephrine and wearing a medical alert bracelet.

Otherwise the mainstay of therapy for people with adverse reactions to food additives is avoidance of the culprit food additive.

Learn how to follow a food coloring-free diet.

Sources:

Wilson BG, Bahna SL. Adverse Reactions of Food Additives. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2005; 95:499-507.

Bush RK, Taylor SL, Hefle SL. Adverse Reactions to Food and Drug Additives. In: Adkinson NF, Yunginger JW, Busse WW, et al, eds. Middleton’s Allergy Principles and Practice. 6th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby Publishing; 2003:1645-1663.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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