Symptoms, causes, what to avoid, and more

A vinegar allergy is rare, but possible. It is also possible to experience allergy-like symptoms due to an intolerance. People who show symptoms after consuming vinegar may have intolerance to sulfites, histamine, salicylates, or acetic acid.

Learn about sensitivities and intolerances that can cause allergy-like symptoms with vinegar, diagnosis, treatment, and foods to avoid.

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Causes of a vinegar allergy

Allergy-like symptoms after consuming vinegar can be triggered by intolerances or sensitivities.

Sensitivity to salicylates

Salicylates are chemicals similar to aspirin. Naturally occurring salicylates can be found in various foods, including fruits and vegetables. Vinegars other than distilled white vinegar and malt vinegar may contain salicylates.

Foods high in salicylates can rarely cause intolerance symptoms similar to allergy symptoms. However, it is not the same as an allergy to aspirin or vinegar.

An intolerance to salicylates may be more common than intolerance to preservatives or artificial colors. People who are sensitive to salicylates may need to avoid foods high in salicylates. This includes foods that may contain vinegar, such as chutney and mayonnaise.

Sensitivity to sulphites

Vinegar, especially wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar, can have sulphites added. Sulfites are compounds that help extend the shelf life of foods and beverages. To preserve food, sulphites release a gas called sulfur dioxide. This gas can contribute to allergy-like symptoms by irritating the airways.

Sulphites can cause allergy-like symptoms. It is thought to affect less than 2% of the general population. In people with asthma, the prevalence of sulphite sensitivity is 5% to 13%.

Histamine intolerance

Histamine is a naturally occurring chemical in certain foods. A histamine intolerance is thought to be caused by a lack of an enzyme needed to break down histamine in the digestive system. This enzyme is called diamine oxidase.

People who are histamine intolerant may experience allergy-like symptoms when they eat foods that contain high levels of histamine. Vinegar is an example of a food high in histamine.

Acetic acid intolerance

Acetic acid is the ingredient that gives vinegar its smell. Vinegar contains water and about 4-6% acetic acid. Other names for acetic acid include ethyl acid, ethanoic acid, vinegar acid, and methane carboxylic acid.

Acetic acid is commonly used in vitamins and medicines. It occurs naturally in foods like wine, aged cheese, or fresh orange juice.

People with acetic acid intolerance may experience allergy-like symptoms when consuming vinegar and foods high in acetic acid.

Symptoms

People with intolerance to salicylates, sulfites, histamine or acetic acid may experience various symptoms after consuming vinegar or products containing vinegar.

Those who consume vinegar and have an intolerance may experience the following symptoms:

  • Eruption
  • Skin inflammation
  • Cough
  • Abdominal pain
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Red skin
  • Itching
  • Swelling

Diagnostic

If a person exhibits symptoms after consuming vinegar, allergy tests may be ordered to rule out allergies.

This may involve a skin test. During this test, an allergist places a small amount of a suspected allergen on the skin of the back or arm. Once the allergen has been placed on the skin, the skin is then pricked or scraped to allow the allergen to move to just below the surface of the skin.

After 15 minutes, the allergist will examine the skin for bumps, called papules. If a raised red bump is present, it may indicate an allergy.

In many cases, people sensitive to something like sulfites will not return a positive allergy test. In this case, a different approach is taken.

A health care provider can take a complete medical history and ask about symptoms. They may also perform a physical exam.

In some cases, a health care provider may ask a person with intolerance symptoms to keep a food diary to help with the diagnosis.

Being asked to avoid certain foods (like vinegar) for a while to see if symptoms improve is one approach to help determine what is causing the symptoms.

Treatment

There is no cure for an intolerance or an allergy. Treatment focuses on symptom management.

This involves strictly avoiding foods that cause intolerance. If an intolerance to a whole food chemical is identified, such as sulfites, several foods may need to be avoided. A dietitian can help you develop an eating plan to take this into account.

Reading labels when buying food and being careful when eating out are important management strategies.

Medicines can also relieve symptoms. These include:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Inhalers

What to avoid

Once a health care provider has determined what is causing the symptoms, they will be able to advise you on which foods to avoid.

For example, if a person is found to be intolerant to sulfites, they will need to avoid various foods and vinegar. These include:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Shrimp
  • Syrup
  • Delicatessen
  • Sausages
  • Vinaigrette

A health care provider or dietician can advise you on which foods to avoid.

Alternatives to Vinegar

Those with an intolerance may need to use alternatives instead of vinegar. These alternatives may depend on intolerance to sulfites, histamine, salicylates or acetic acid.

Those who must avoid vinegar should avoid products like salad dressing, chutney, mayonnaise, and pickles. Instead, try other sauces or sauces. Instead of vinegar in salad dressings, try an oil and lemon juice vinaigrette.

When to See a Health Care Provider

If you experience symptoms when consuming vinegar or any other food or drink, you should consider making an appointment to see a healthcare professional.

They will be able to help determine if the symptoms are caused by an allergy, intolerance, or something else. They will also be able to advise the best treatment approach in the future.

Summary

A vinegar allergy is rare but possible. People who consume vinegar may experience allergy-like symptoms due to intolerance to histamines, salicylates, sulfites, or acetic acid. There is no treatment or cure for allergy or intolerance, but it is important to avoid vinegar or other foods associated with intolerance.

A word from Verywell

If you experience symptoms after consuming vinegar, consider making an appointment with a medical professional. They can help determine if the symptoms are due to an intolerance, an allergy or something else.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is a vinegar allergy?

    A vinegar allergy is rare, but possible. An intolerance or sensitivity to vinegar is also possible.

  • Can a vinegar allergy be cured?

    It is not possible to cure an allergy or intolerance. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and avoiding allergens or ingredients to which a person is intolerant.

  • Can you have an allergic reaction to apple cider vinegar?

    Although rare, allergic reactions to vinegar and apple cider vinegar have been reported. A 2016 study reported that one person had an anaphylactic reaction (a severe allergic reaction) to apple cider vinegar.

  • Is a vinegar allergy the same as an allergy to acidic foods?

    A vinegar allergy is rare. A vinegar intolerance may be due to an intolerance to histamine, sulfites, salicylates or acetic acid. Some foods that contain these chemicals can also be acidic. For example, citrus fruits contain high levels of histamine.

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