Dr. Dean

If I Am Allergic To Sulfa Drugs, Must I Give Up Garlic?

Posting Date: 05/27/1999

Ginger: I'm allergic to sulfur antibiotics. The first time I had a sulfur antibiotic I broke out in hives. They also give me intestinal pains and diarrhea that can last for two days. I think it's sulfur because apricots that are dried with sulfur also make me sick.

Garlic also has sulfur in it, so I can't eat Chinese, Italian, or Mexican food.

I get allergy shots for hay fever, but my allergist says he can't do anything about these other allergies.

Dr. Dean: Oh, my gosh. Garlic is a reason to live. You're depressing me.

I think something other than sulfur is giving you trouble. Lots of foods besides garlic have sulfur in them, and the sulfur in garlic is bound to other molecules.

I don't have any ideas for helping you. We need an allergist to help us out.

Desensitizing someone to food allergies is dangerous. If you have a true food allergy you can go into anaphylactic shock, which causes choking and swelling. It can be deadly.

Every once in awhile someone writes to tell me they tried a tiny piece of what they were allergic to and then more and more until they were able to tolerate it. I don't recommend this, because it is fraught with danger.

Here is some more information I just received in an e-mail from an emergency room physician: "The sulfa antibiotic allergy isn't the same as an allergy to the sulfur preservative.

"The preservative in apricots is sulfite. This is different from the sulfa in the antibiotics, and I think it's even different from the compound in garlic. Aside from antibiotics, sulfa is in other medications.

"This isn't something I would do on the phone or over the radio. Ginger needs a second opinion from an allergist."