There is quite a lot of confusion when it comes to the various forms of Sulfur. What is the difference between sulfa drugs, sulfites, sulfates and sulfur.

Often people are allergic to sulfa drugs and sulfites. Therefore may think that it is necessary for them to avoid sulfates and sulfur, as well.

In this article I will explain to you the differences between these four substances and the allergic reactions to be aware of.

Sulfa Drugs (Sulfonamides)

It is not unusual for people to have Allergies to sulfa containing drugs. Sulfa drugs actually contain a molecule called sulfonamide.

Sulfonamides contain Sulfur, Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Hydrogen.

The sulfonamide drugs were the first antimicrobial drugs (antibiotics) These molecules plug up the bacteria’s ability to reproduce.

The allergic reactions occur due to the actions of the molecule, not the actual sulfur. It is therefore this molecule having an adverse reaction to the bacteria, that has a negative effect on the digestive and immune systems.

Even though sulfa containing drugs, Sulfonamides contain Sulfur. Sulfur doesn't seem to be the problem.

Sulfites (also Sulfur Dioxide)

Sulfites are naturally occurring sulfur containing molecules that occur in the fermentation process. The red wines.

Sulfites are added as preservatives by wine manufacturers. The quantity of sulfites is greater in red or sweet tasting wines than that of clearer dryer wines such as white wines.

Sulfites contain one Sulfur atom surrounded by either 2 or 3 Oxygen atoms.

Sulfites can cause sensitivity reactions in some people to include possibly headaches and breathing problems. Sulfites are not the same as Sulfa Drugs.


Sulfates contain one sulfur atom surrounded by 4 Oxygen atoms. Salts, acid derivatives, and peroxides of sulfate are widely used in industry. Sulfates also occur widely in everyday life. Sulfates are salts of sulfuric acid and many are prepared from that acid. Sulfates are very important molecules for everyone’s health and do not cause allergic or sensitivity reactions.

Sulfates are used as escort molecules for a number of supplements including glucosamine sulfate and vanadyl sulfate. Sulfates are different from Sulfites and Sulfa Drugs. It is very rare that people who are sensitive to sulfites and sulfa drugs will be sensitive to sulfates.


Sulfur is the chemical element that is found in Sulfa Drugs, Sulfites, and Sulfates. Sulfur is an essential element of life and is found in amino acids and other important molecules in the body. It is virtually impossible to have an allergy to sulfur itself. As you are not able to survive without sulfur. So what happens is that people don't actually have an allergy to sulfur, they are actually allergic to the sulfites or sulfonamides. Not to the sulfur or sulfates.

Allergy Symptoms to Sulfites or Sulfonamides

•swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, and throat
•drop in blood pressure
•anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention)

There are rare cases of serum type sickness reactions that occasionally occur say 10 days after a sulfa drug treatment begins.

These Symptoms can include:
•skin eruptions
•drug-induced arthritis
•swollen lymph nodes

You should contact a Health Professional immediately if you have these symptoms.

Medications to Avoid if you’re allergic or have a sensitivity to sulfites or sulfonamides:
•antibiotic combination drugs such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Septra, Bactrim) and erythromycin-sulfisoxazole
•sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) used for Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis
•Dapsone (used to treat leprosy, dermatitis, and certain types of pneumonia)

Not all drugs that contain sulfonamides cause reactions in all people.

Some medications that may not cause these reactions are:
•some diabetes medications including glyburide (Glynase, Diabeta) and glimepiride (Amaryl)
•non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as celecoxib (Celebrex)
•migraine medication sumatriptan (Imitrex, Sumavel, and Dosepro)
•some diuretics including hydrochlorthiazide (Microzide) and furosemide (Lasix)

An Actual Sulfite Allergy:

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to sulfites include:
•swelling of the mouth and lips
•wheezing or trouble breathing
•asthma attack (in people with asthma)

If you experience more serious symptoms of a sulfite allergy, contact your Health Care Professional. Anaphylaxis requires immediate emergency medical attention.

Never hesitate - Call an Ambulance

How to Avoid Sulfites

Whether or not you find that you have a life/death allergic reaction or just some of the symptoms associated with a sulfite allergy. It is beneficial for you to avoid them as much as possible.

Sulfites are common in processed foods, condiments, and alcoholic beverages, such as red and white wine. Sulfites occur naturally in wine during fermentation, and many winemakers add them to help the process along. For the past two decades, the Food and Drug Administration has required winemakers to display the warning "contains sulfites" if levels exceed a certain threshold. Many companies voluntarily add the label to their products as well.

If you find that you suffer from any of the mentioned sensitivities. It is then important that you should avoid food products with the following chemicals on the label:
•sulfur dioxide
•potassium bisulfate
•potassium metabisulfite
•sodium bisulfite
•sodium metabisulfite
•sodium sulfite

Important to Note: In this article I am not talking about the Naturally occurring sulfites found in fresh fruits and vegetables. But the addition of chemically derived sulfites added to processed foods, drinks and medications.

I hope that you have found this information helpful, as I often mention, allow Fresh, Organic Foods to make up the majority of your daily intake of food intake you will then reduce the amount of these harmful sulfites entering your body.

If Changing Your Habits is somewhat of a Challenge here is a Link to my Article: 7 Key Steps to Build Positive Habits – 28 Days to Building Your New Habit

Empowering You to Optimal Health Julie Doherty N.D

Author's Bio: 

Julie Doherty is acknowledged as Worldwide Leader in Healthcare by The Leading Physicians of the world. She is an exceptionally experienced naturopathic health practitioner with a vast expertise in traditional medicine, herbal medicine, and homeopathic medicine. Julie has over twenty-six years in practice and currently maintains a position at Julie's Naturopathic Health Care Services, her private practice in Hackham, South Australia, Australia, where she provides an extensive array of safe, effective, individual, and non-invasive therapies to assist with overcoming health issues that affect the body and the mind.

Julie graduated with distinctions from S.A. College of Botanical Medicine and Natural Therapies and is an accredited member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. Her professional qualifications include Naturopathic Doctor, Herbal & Homoeopathic Practitioner in Diet and Nutritional Medicine, Remedial & Therapeutic Massage Therapy, Body Mind Balancing Cognitive Counselling, and Healthy/Lifestyle coaching and Natural Beauty. This solid education has enabled Julie to provide an extensive range of multidisciplinary modalities that are safe, effective, individual and non-invasive to empower each person to optimal health. Julie credits her success to determination and dedicates to her family and traveling in her spare time