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Salicylate sensitivity, also known as salicylate intolerance, is any adverse effect that occurs when a usual amount of salicylate is ingested. People with salicylate intolerance are unable to consume a normal amount of salicylate without adverse effects.
Salicylate sensitivity differs from salicylism, which occurs when an individual takes an overdose of salicylates. Salicylate overdose can occur in people without salicylate sensitivity, and can be deadly if untreated. For more information, see aspirin poisoning.
Salicylates are derivatives of salicylic acid that occur naturally in plants and serve as a natural immune hormone and preservative, protecting the plants against diseases, insects, fungi, and harmful bacteria. Salicylates can also be found in many medications, perfumes and preservatives. Both natural and synthetic salicylates 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 adverse reactions.
Salicylate sensitivity is a pharmacological reaction, not a true IgE-mediated allergy. However, it is possible for aspirin to trigger non-allergic hypersensitivity reactions. About 5-10% of asthmatics have aspirin hypersensitivity.
An important salicylate drug is aspirin, which has a long history. Aspirin intolerance was widely known by 1975, when the understanding began to emerge that it is a pharmacological reaction, not an allergy.
The most common symptoms of salicylate sensitivity are:
- Stomach pain/upset stomach
- Tinnitus ringing of the ears
- Itchy skin, hives or rashes
- Asthma and other breathing difficulties
- Swelling of hands, feet, eyelids, face and/or lips
- Bed wetting or urgency to pass water
- Persistent cough
- Changes in skin color/skin discoloration
- Sore, itchy, puffy or burning eyes
- Sinusitis/Nasal polyps
- Memory loss and poor concentration
There are no laboratory or skin testing methods for testing salicylate sensitivity. Provocative challenge is one method of obtaining reliable diagnosis. Provocative challenge is intended to induce a controlled reaction as a means of confirming diagnosis. During provocative challenge, the person is given incrementally higher doses of salicylates, usually aspirin, under medical supervision, until either symptoms appear or the likelihood of symptoms appearing is ruled out.
Completely eliminating salicylate from one’s diet and environment is virtually impossible and is not a recommended course of action by many immunologists. The range of foods that have no salicylate content is very limited, and consequently salicylate-free diets are very restricted.
Desensitization involves daily consumption of small doses of salicylate without symptoms recurring and slowly increasing the dosage.
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- Salicylate Sensitivity Forums and Food/Product Guides
- Aspirin sensitivity at the Journal of the American Medical Association patients' page