Red Dye Allergy | Explained In Detail

Food Dye Allergy
19 min read
(Last Updated On: May 2, 2021)

In today’s world, Red dye or red 40 foods is everywhere around the world from moving restaurants, grocery stores, fast food and kitchen food items. 

Most of you may have experienced itching or facial swelling after consuming food which contains chemical foods or artificial colour in it such as red dyes, yellow and blue dyes.

If you have a high consumption of food which contains red 40 daily, then you may have food intolerances or be allergic to red dye. 

According to FDA 150 deaths and 30,000 emergency room visits are registered per year due to food allergy. 

This article briefly explains everything you need to know about red dye allergy.

What You Will Learn?


Let’s Dive Right In

A detailed overview of red dye

if you have guessed correctly? Most of the standard American diets you come across contain red dye [even called as red 40].

But before jumping to a detailed overview of red 40, besides red 40 also two important ✌ food dyes.

Which is popular and play a major role in food colouring allergies in your regular menu table or meal is Tartrazine and annatto.

  • Carmine (red #4 which is most common)
  • Tartrazine (FD&C yellow)
  • Annatto 

What is red dye allergy, exactly?

Red 40 popularly known as Red dye allergy, is a synthetic food colourant or food dye produced from petroleum. In plain text, it’s a synthetic dye.

There are a variety of products available in the market which contain red dye in it. 

The mainly red dye which is available in the market exists in two forms: Natural and Synthetic (More in use than natural).

Do not get confused that natural red dyes which are plants and animals extracts are safe to you just because they are natural. 

This type of allergy mainly occurred in kids and adults who are not able to digest this food colouring. 

You will learn later about why children are more attracted to artificial food colour dyes? 

Most common sources of red dye are food colouring scientifically known as cochineal extract or carmine. 

Other than the food, colouring number 2 is food colour number 40 that is widely in use in cooking and medicines.

Why Is This Also Known as Red 40?

It is so because this allergy happens only when the human body can’t process the food dye known as red 40.

Mostly there are no packaged and fast foods (exception applied) which contain high amounts of red dye in it. 

The foods which are high in red dye are sweet, fast foods and other fancy food (more appealing) – that is why kids are more prone or at high risk to red dye allergy.

Why do most of the brands use red 40 or red colours in their product?

  • The first reason behind is that manufactures use colour additives on food or beverages to enhance naturally occurring colours for visual appeal.
  • The second reason is, in comparison with other natural additives, synthetically produced colour additives are more likely to blend more comfortably, cheaper and prepare a uniform colour.

Symptoms of red dye allergy

Scientific consumer advocacy groups questioned the safety of red dye allergy.

As its utilization causes several different types of allergies (such as abnormal immune responses to food).

Symptoms of red 40 may vary from people to people since everyone has a unique body, and the amount of food consumption also varies. 

Among all symptoms, some are most common, while some may cause severe reactions (even life-threatening). 

Some symptoms may resolve fast while some of them could be long term.

Here is a list of most common symptoms of red dye allergy experienced or reported by people:

1. Allergic to Skin Reactions: 

It is the most common symptoms of red 40 or red dye allergy. Some skin reactions you may experience include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Redness (Erythema is the redness of the skin caused by increased blood flow in your body)
  • Swelling of the skin 
  • The appearance of Hives, rashes, push filled boils (skin infection that usually develops around a hair follicle) and thick bumps 
  • Angioedema- it is a severe skin reaction occurring due to swelling of the skin (happens only in a deep layer of the skin) this could also be seen in your eyelids, tongue, and some parts of your surrounding face.

2. Gastrointestinal Issues: 

If you are allergic to some specific foods containing red dye like – 

dairy products, acidic foods, fatty foods, fried foods, processed foods, artificial sweetener, alcohol, caffeine, salty or sweet, spoiled foods and some spicy foods, then you may report a gastrointestinal issue. 

The gastrointestinal issue is also a reason why some of you get coughing, wheezing or whistling in your chest.

Usually, it begins from stomach pain or from a more severe digestive issue which may include:

  • Bloating 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ache
  • Gassiness- (affected with gases generated in intestine or stomach)

3. Respiratory Problems: 

When it comes to respiratory problems as a symptom, people with Red dye allergy do not have a specific respiratory problem. Different people pose different symptoms.

Red Dye Allergy also makes it to identify some diseases in your body. The most common condition which remains unidentified in red dye allergy is fever and flu. 

Along with it, many respiratory diseases also remain anonymous.

For people, those who have experienced or reported some symptoms of respiratory problems include:

  • Wheezing and sneezing
  • Difficulty in breathing and throat swelling
  • Tightness in chest

4. Anaphylactic Shock or Anaphylaxis Symptoms: 

It is the severe allergic reactions to food allergen which may involve your entire body. 

In the United States, Only 99.7% of people survived from anaphylaxis(2). These types of symptoms mainly occur in young people and females and develop within a minute or an hour of contact with an allergen. 

Still, in rare cases, it develops 4-5 hours or later.

If the red dye allergy is left uncured or untreated for a long time, it can enhance or become extremely severe to anaphylaxis. 

Also, anyone who has an anaphylactic shock before has a high chance or is more likely to experience it again.

Why can anaphylaxis be life-threatening?

As red 40 causes difficulty in breathing and low blood pressure so that it could be life-threatening.

If not treated well and quickly, anaphylaxis reaction can result or may cause severe death. 

Some severe symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Whole Body Swelling
  • Dizziness and Fainting
  • Cardiovascular or low blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain and headaches

5. Other Potential Complications With Red 40:

  • ADHD (Common among young people and females)
  • Faster pulse and joint pains
  • Lack of sleep and lack of appetite
  • Joints pains and hypersensitivity
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Lack of concentration

By the above symptoms, now you can suspect your child whether he/she has an allergy to red dye. 

If not, then you may simply seek your family doctor’s advice. Now let’s jump on to “Is red dye allergy real, and how much safe is it?”

Is red dye allergy real?

Most of the people today believe that they have a food allergy or hypersensitivity to red dyes, but they don’t have, Take it with a pinch of salt.

Several studies suggest that only 34% of parents reported food allergies in their children. Among them, only 5% were suffering from food allergies in real life.

Here are the Estimated proportions showing how many people are non -allergic and allergic to some of the prevalent allergies. 

Here’s a line from Samantha Walker About food allergy

According to a study done by the American Academy of Allergy and Asthma and Immunology, food allergy affects only 5% adults and 8% of children. 

Male children are affected more than females meaning that food allergy is rare among adults than others.

Most widely used typical food additives which you see when it comes to food colouring, is yellow #5 and red 40, also known as Allura Red. 

We often see them as the culprit, but most reports say that allergic reactions to food dyes are unscientific or anecdotal.

Why are reactions to artificial food dye rare?

  • Artificial additives which include red 40 and yellow #5 do not contain proteins in it and since our body immune system responds to proteins.
  • There is also no specific test for artificial food dyes which describes the cause of adverse reaction or food intolerance than allergies.
  • A report by NCBI suggests that Natural food dyes extracted from animals and plants can cause true food allergy as compared to artificial food dye. Also, natural food dye contains proteins in it while synthetic food dyes don’t.
  • Annatto (Yellow Colour dye Derived from a tree) and Carmine (E120 or red color dye derived from beetles) are both natural dyes causing allergic reactions.

So, it can be concluded that “Allergic Reactions to Food Dyes are Very Rare or low”.

Simply say out of 10, only 4 people may have food dye allergies, but by ignoring them can cause you a severe effect.

By the above Statements, It is clear that whether it is natural or artificial food dye, an allergic reaction is scarce among children and adults. However, it is still a more significant concern if your child has it.

Pro Tip:

  1. If You Find your child has an allergic reaction to food dyes or food colouring, it is essential to discuss with your child primary care provider.
  2. Parents who wish to limit the Food colour additives in their children diets- should keep a record of their child when ingesting any of the food containing food colouring. 
  3. If you find the above two problems cannot work for your child or by you, then only elimination is the best way for you. Simply avoid going for it.

Is red dye safe for your health?

Multiple studies say Yes there is an effect and other reviews say No, we want more studies that bring us more clarity to the side (adverse) effects of red 40.

The answer to the above present question could be – no or maybe yes, to some extent only if you maintain your daily intake of red dye as low as 7mg or 7mg”. But How?

Let See what (WHO) and (EPA) has to say about red dye.

Based on current evidence the Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation (WHO), and Environment Protection Agency (EPA) have determined the dietary exposure to red dye or red 40 for all ages to be a low concern on health(3,4).

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), You should maintain The Daily Intake of red dye 40 is 7mg per kg of body weight.

What study has to tell about?

According to NCBI, a study conducted on American’s intake of Red Dye is a higher individual with a minimum age of 2 years and older consumes an average of 0.002mg of red 40 per pound of body weight per day.

The bottom line to all the above-stuffed data is, many health officials have considered red dye safe for all people of all ages.

And several studies also suggest that there is a safe margin consumption of red dye 40.

What types of foods and products cause red dye allergy? 

Excluding food which contains red dye in it, may benefit your body significantly. 

Not only red dye but along with it six other dyes – also known as “rainbow of risks” by the CSPI, has been banned in different countries. These countries include – Austria, France, the UK, Finland and Norway.

For further reference, you may visit here: Food Dyes a Rainbow of six.

By the above statement and article by CSPI, you can now conclude that you have to avoid some types of products or foods in your day to day meals.

The Food and Drug Administration has also approved or accepted a total of nine products that the US manufactures can use to enhance colouring in food. The list prepared by the FDA also includes red no 3 and red 40.

Don’t get confused that only foods and products would contain red 40 if they have a red colour in it. 

There is a wide range of food products also available in grocery stores whose colour varies from brown, blue, orange-yellow and white. For example, flavoured yoghurt contains blue #1 and red40 in it.

Apart from food, there are a lot of products in which red dye are found, like health care and makeup/Cosmetics.

But the solution to this problem is by searching or finding red dye in your day to day items.

Where can you find red dye?

You can find red dye in your day to day life in Food Products like Chocolate pudding, ice cream, hot dogs and barbeque sauce and many more.

If you want a list of food products that contain red dye in it and are free from red 40 then you may go for a superb article by 17 Surprising Foods That Contain Chemicals & Food Dyes.

Though, for your sake of convenience, I have listed some of them down below for you.

  • Candy and fruit snacks: (marshmallows, red coloured candies, lollipops and bubble gum), chips, bars and jello.
  • Dairy Products: flavoured milk, pudding, ice cream and yoghurt.
  • Beverages: energy drinks, protein powders, soda, and sports drink.
  • Cosmetics (Shampoos, lipstick and conditioners).

Food dye or colour in medicine: 

Red dye also available in medicine items.

Many medicinal products contain red 40 in them, including medicine tablets, syrups and as well as over the counter and prescription medicine. 

But colouring in food can easily be avoided than medicine products. So they may be more problematic.

The problem lies here that many drug manufacturers use excipients added to medicine to give out suitable consistency appearance or form.

Case reports by NCBI suggest that medicine which contains a colouring agent which includes FD&C Blue no 1 and indigo carmine can cause hypersensitivity to children.

How to spot a red dye or red 40 products?

To identify anything that contains red dye is not a big deal, simply you need to see the backside of a product.

What problem will you be able to face while identifying red 40 or red dye in a product and how to solve the problem?

  1. The first and primary problem is that the ingredients listed on the products are new to you.
  2. For some people, the ingredients are much more terrifying and some of the ingredients are very strange. 

How can you solve this problem?

First: You can ask about ingredients containing red dye by shop owners.

Seconds: simply search for ingredients on google, dictionary and YouTube and the product which you have to buy see review.

Third: If your problem will not be solved by the above two steps just ask about ingredients with your personal doctor’s or with a food specialist. 

Once you will gather information about ingredients next time you will be able to identify a product that contains red 40 and you will be able to see many of the ingredients repeated in many products which contain red dye.

While moving to the backside of the package, you’ll see a lot of nutrition information to learn.

If you are looking at a list of ingredients, you will come across how much a food product contains added preservatives and other food additives.

For different countries, labels or ingredient lists do not look the same – it varies from country to country. 

Different countries have different rules and regulations for food product labelling.

You probably know that red dye is available in a variety of different products. 

Still, if you want to know Lil bit deep then, simply look for any of these ingredients on labels and search for these keywords:

  • Cochineal extract or punches
  • Red 40 lake
  • Allura Red AC
  • CI 16035
  • C. I Food Red 17
  • E129, E110, E102, and E133
  • INS No. 129

Two dye allowed by FDA for limited use.

  • Citrus Red 2 – use to colour orange peels
  • Orange B- use to colour in hot dog and sausage

How to regulate intake of red dye?

Here is a tip which helps you to maintain the intake of red dye or red 40:

  1. Keep a record of your ingredients that you are ingesting.
  2. Be sure to search for keywords on the ingredients list of food products which contain added preservability.
  3. Look at the above product labels and read an ingredients list.

RED 40 goes by several names not only red 40 many of the artificial food has different names.  

If you select or identify high-quality food it would provide lifetime wellness to you and your family. And also will benefit your family by giving nutritional value.

Does red dye affect your children’s behavior?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders) – It is a behavioural or mental disorder that causes significant distress and impairment on children by neurodevelopment type. (Group of disorders that affect the development of Nervous system).

About two-third times ADHD occurs in children with other disorders in children. 

In children, girls tend to have lower symptoms of ADHD than boys.

Certain studies report that red dye has been associated with lowering the IQ and hyperactivity in children with ADHD than other non-ADHD children.

Additionally, both children and adults are more likely to find other disorders in them. 

Take, for instance, forming and maintaining a friendship with their peers, reading and writing, upset stomach, migraines and challenging to focus. 

While others, non-ADHD children find difficulty in managing anger and delays in speech after high intake of red dye.

Multiple studies showed that the reaction of children to red 40 was very similar to children diagnosed with ADHD.

And its symptoms may result in increased hyperactivity to children also the restriction of red dye in their diets has benefited them with the significant improvements in leadership, writing and focus (3,4,5).

How does Red 40 affect your children’s brain?

Increase in Consumption of red 40 or red dye in your child can result in serious Brain function problems such as aggressive and hostile which may affect your children behaviours.

Here is the case report was done by Amen Clinics on a boy named Robert, a 15-year-old child was reacting to food additives. 

Robert’s parents noticed that whenever he eats or drinks something red in colour, his behaviour changes to aggressive and hostile.

Robert Brain’s SPECTIVE view was completely changed when he was eating red dye products. 

His parents wholly removed red dye from his diet and saw his behaviour was also changed or improved dramatically.

Image of Robert Brain Spect view 

Summary- Red 40 may worsen behavior in children with ADHD and non- ADHD as in the above studies and evidence suggests.

The best and effective treatment for reducing ADHD in your child is to remove synthetic food dyes from your child’s diet.

Treatment of ADHD: 

Treatment for people or children with ADHD can be solved in two ways by:

1. Medications

2. Psychosocial therapy

Let’s talk about both of the ways. 

Medication: In medications in an adult or children with ADHD mostly plan or prepare by immediate and long-acting formulations. 

Also, make sure that this type of medicine in below has its side effect.

For immediate formulation, medicine like Ritalin appears effective in the treatment of ADHD in children. 

Ritalin often comes to mind because it’s an action block of the NDRI, which results in slow removal of the neurotransmitters from your synapses.

Medicine like atomoxetine is a non – stimulant which is not a controlled substance.

It is so because it does not have a potential for abuse and often prescribed for adults who can’t tolerate the side effects of Ritalin. 

The FDA also approves it for treatment of ADHD among children or adults and its side effects may include liver damaged and increased suicidal thoughts.

Bupropion and desipramine show evidence ineffectiveness in the management of ADHD.

Psychosocial Therapy: Researchers show that alongside medications, psychosocial therapy in children can be useful in reducing ADHD (5,6).

Psychosocial treatment may improve their behaviours skills and daily tasks, teaching children mindfulness techniques or meditation and behavioural therapy.

Preventing and treatment of red 40 allergy

“Prevention Is the key to success”  

Due to the increase in artificial food color in the world. We should avoid red 40 or artificial color additivities as far as possible, as this statement always works for any disease, that “prevention is better than cure”. 

Here is a step by step to prevent red dye or artificial colour from your diet:

  1. Contact or Ask from your friend or peers who has experienced red dye allergy or first-hand experience of the condition and apply if you have red 40 allergies.
  2. Simply identify food which contains red 40 or red dye in it by reading labels and ingredients in the back of packaged products- Always read labels when you go to the grocery store.
  3. Especially if you have a child, this step will help you and your family. Consult or Take advice from your practitioner will help you to know more about red dye allergy.
  4. Learn from real-life heroes like models, actors, fitness enthusiasts, and pro bodybuilders and watch their interviews and listen to their podcast about what they eat in their day to day life or about their lifestyle.
  5. If you have children or kids in your home who show symptoms of red dye allergy, the best or simple method is to introduce them to healthier options or simply make them aware of the side effects of red dye and artificial coloring.

Treatment or prescription 

Food allergies many a time also get treated as Severe reactions (such as liver failure, abnormal heart rhythms, certain types of allergic reactions).

If a reaction to red dye allergy is similar, it may be vital for you to prepare for it. 

Anti-allergy medicine like Antihistamines works for you if you have symptoms of red dye allergy. 

But it doesn’t work when you have other issues like gastrolienal or stomach problems because the only way to fix this is the excretion of food out of your body.

People who have been adverse reactions or allergic to red dye products its primary solutions is to avoid food colouring or additives 

Red dye allergy diagnosing and testing

1. Keep a record of your food which contains red 40 in it which you have eaten and if you notice a sudden reaction to food which you have to eat, try to avoid these foods for a couple of days or months to see if signs vanish from your body or not.

2.  Another method is to conduct a food challenge. This method is the same as the above method. But the difference is only that your physician will provide you food or keep a record of food which you eat, once you have a reaction to food which contains red dye you and your physician will find the culprit.

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