Salicylate sensitivity

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Salicylate sensitivity, also known as salicylate intolerance, is a chemical reaction that occurs when too much salicylate (salicylic acid) is introduced into a person's system. Salicylates are chemicals that occur naturally in plants and serve as a natural immune hormone and preservative, protecting the plants against diseases, insects, fungi, and harmful bacteria. Salicylate can also be found synthetically in many medicines, perfumes and preservatives. This chemical can cause health problems in anyone when consumed in large doses. But, for those who are salicylate intolerant even small doses of salicylate can cause reactions. This reaction is different than a true allergy as it is a pharmacological reaction (like the side effects of a drug) and not an immunological reaction. People with salicylate sensitivity are unable to handle more than a certain amount of salicylates at a time without symptoms occurring.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of salicylate sensitivity are:

  • Itchy skin, hives or rashes
  • Stomach pain/upset stomach
  • Asthma and other breathing difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Swelling of hands, feet, eyelids, face and/or lips
  • Bed wetting or urgency to pass water
  • Mouth ulcers or raw hot red rash around the mouth
  • Persistent cough
  • Changes in skin color/skin discoloration
  • Fatigue
  • Sore, itchy, puffy or burning eyes
  • Sinusitis/Nasal polyps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Memory loss and poor concentration
  • Depression
  • ADD/ADHD

Treatment

Because salicylate intolerance is not a true allergy there is currently no scientific method that will accurately determine if a person is sensitive to salicylates or not. This is because salicylate sensitivity is a dose-related reaction and symptoms only occur when the tolerance level of the individual has been exceeded. One method currently available to determine food intolerance is an elimination diet. Completely eliminating salicylate from one’s diet and environment for 4 to 6 weeks can decrease or possibly eliminate all symptoms involved with salicylate intolerance. After this time period, most salicylate intolerant people can consume or come into contact with occasional small doses of salicylate without symptoms re-occurring. Alternately, those who are extremely sensitive to salicylates should avoid salicylates as much as possible.

Contraindicated medicines

References

  • “Was it Something You Ate? Food Intolerance: what causes it and how to avoid it” by John Emsley and Peter Fell



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