Food additives are used to enhance a product's flavor, improve consistency or reduce acidity. Some additives increase the amount of nutrients in a product such as the calcium and vitamin D added to milk products. Other additives such as nitrates, keep food from spoiling. While additives for the most part are safe, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, they can cause adverse reactions.
Salami, hot dogs, bologna and other processed fish and meat products incorporate nitrates, or nitrites, in their recipes to preserve the food. Nitrates also give hot dogs the pinkish brown color you associate with the food. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, nitrates in hot dogs and other processed meats prevent the spread a deadly toxin called botulism. The rare, but life-threatening bacterium grows in the tightly packed environments of processed meat. Don't eat hot dogs that have a rancid smell or have changed color.
An average of 150 to 200 people die each year from serious food allergy reactions, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Texas Chapter. Another 30,000 visit local emergency rooms each year with food-induced reactions. An allergy can lead to anaphylactic shock if not treated as an emergency. Most allergies are formed by the age of 2 and usually involve natural foods such as wheat, milk or peanuts. Allergies to additives are rare though you may be sensitive to various food additives that can lead to uncomfortable symptoms.
The length and severity of your reactions to nitrates varies depending on how much you ate and how sensitive you are to the additives. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that most reactions are chemical rather than allergic. The most common chemical sensitivities to nitrates are hives and headaches. The red bumps and itching associated with hives usually disappear on their own in a short period of time and can be treated with antihistamines.
When hives appear in your throat, they may interfere with normal breathing. After eating a hot dog loaded with nitrates, if you have trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention. Your breathing difficulties may be due to swelling in your throat or could signal an allergy to the additives. A swab of the swollen tissue can give your doctor the means to perform an allergy test. Avoid hot dogs and other processed meats if you have adverse reactions. Additionally, learn to read food labels to prevent exposure to the offending additives.