Developing a headache, nausea and rashes on your skin after eating Chinese food indicates an allergy or sensitivity to an additive called monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Just as high fructose corn syrup increases food sweetness, MSG increases the savory, meaty flavor in Chinese food. Taking specific preventive measures can help reduce the severity of your rash after eating Chinese food.
History of MSG Reactions
In 1968, customers started complaining of physical ailments after eating Chinese food. Symptoms included chest pain, flushing, headache and numbness around the mouth and face. Initially, doctors collectively called these symptoms "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." MSG was considered responsible for the symptoms, but according to MedlinePlus, scientists have never found any consistent link between MSG and the above physical ailments. Such inconsistent evidence is why the medical community now believes that MSG only affects those with an allergy or sensitivity to the additive, not the population at large.
An actual allergy to MSG manifests in your skin and intestines, and will occur within minutes of eating a food containing MSG. An MSG allergy occurs when your body mistakenly perceives it as a foreign substance that requires the full and immediate force of your entire immune system. A typical allergic reaction to MSG involves multiple symptoms, not just a rash on your neck and chest. In addition to rashes, other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and significant facial swelling.
According to University of Maryland Medical Center, people with a sensitivity to MSG mistakenly believe they are allergic. An MSG sensitivity results from your digestive system's delayed digestive response. Being sensitive to MSG will cause a tingling, flushing sensation behind your neck approximately 15 or 20 minutes after eating. Unlike an allergic reaction, an MSG sensitivity doesn't involve your immune system.
When MSG sensitivity is the cause of your rash, minimize your consumption of the substance by requesting a list of the MSG-free menu options or asking for an ingredient list for each item. Skip heavily seasoned dishes or those containing a brand of flavoring called Accent. If your MSG sensitivity is mild, taking 50 milligrams of vitamin B-6 before eating Chinese food can help your body correctly process the additive. Being truly allergic to MSG requires not consuming the additive in any amount and speaking with your doctor immediately to confirm that an allergy is the cause of your rash, not another underlying health condition.
- University of Michigan Health: MSG Sensitivity
- MedlinePlus.com: Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Food Allergy
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: The Monosodium glutamate symptom complex: Assessment in a Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Study
- The Merck Manual Home Health Book: Food Allergies
- Blue Shield of California: MSG Sensitivity