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This month on Which? Conversation: February 2022

What’s happening for you this month? Start a new conversation in our monthly open discussion area.

Welcome to February – and a very happy Lunar New Year to those celebrating!

Welcome to our monthly open thread, entirely based on what’s happening right now in the consumer world. We’ll be keeping you updated throughout the month, both here on Which? Conversation and elsewhere on which.co.uk.  

What’s happening for you? We’re keen to hear your experiences in the comments below – don’t be shy!

Jump ahead to:

What happens when you lose a parking ticket appeal?

Parking continues to be a popular topic around Which?. Last week we welcomed Huw Merriman MP’s opinion on “double-charging” for parking and other areas, while Which?’s Consumer Rights Team has been busy helping a consumer with an appeal against their parking fine.

If you receive a parking ticket, do you choose to pay it off straight away and be done with it, or do you prefer to go through the full appeal process?

If you receive a parking ticket, in general, what do you choose to do?
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If you’ve received a parking ticket and want to appeal, check out our Consumer Rights guides on:

Changes to the Which? Conversation login process

Early notice: early in February you’ll start to see a significant change to the way you log in to Which? Conversation.

Instead of the pop-up window, when you click Sign in/Register you’ll be directed to a dedicated sign-in page where you can sign in with your existing Which? Conversation account, or register a new account if you choose to.

This will make the login process similar to what you see on which.co.uk, and hopefully start to fix the ongoing caching issue on-site where people appear not to be logged in when they, in fact, are.

For the moment you will need to continue to use your separate Which? Conversation account to log in, as we have not yet integrated the login process here with the rest of which.co.uk.

We’ll update here (and in the comments below) when this change is about to go live.

Obviously with a considerable change such as this there’s scope for something to break. If you’re unable to log in, register, or are experiencing any other issues following this deployment, please let us know on our dedicated error reporting form and give us as much detail as possible (particularly the browser and device you’re using).

Receieved an email from Which? Conversation?

There’s a chance later on this month you may receive an email from the Which? Conversation team regarding your account.

Over the past twelve years(!) we’ve been fortunate to have just short of 75,000 people create an account on Which? Conversation, and we can see some of these accounts appear to not have been used for a long time.

We’ve a duty under our Privacy Policy and data protection law generally to make sure we’re not retaining your personal data beyond its intended purpose, so we’re getting in touch to check in on whether each person would like to keep their account active.

As a reminder, you can actually delete your Which? Conversation account at any time through your member profile –look under Settings > Delete Account. This removes your ability to login to the site, but will not remove any comments you’ve posted (if you’d like to do this, get in touch via our contact form and we’ll be able to take care of it).

Your consumer rights in stormy weather

With Storms Eunice and Dudley set to hit the UK, there’s a chance you may experience a fair amount of disruptions to your power supply, travel, or other parts of your day to day.

Which?’s @hdownes has put together a brief guide to your consumer rights in event of storm disruption so that, while it may put a pause to some parts of your life, you’re less likely to be left out of pocket in the process.

Above all – remember to stay safe and indoors if you can, as it’s not often a red warning is issued for wind.


Please reinstate the conversation that was dedicated to website problems.

This site is called Which? Conversation, so it would seem reasonable to start a thread of a problem and others help out, give their experiences or how they overcome them. The added input can only be helpful to the person trying to solve the problem.

There is nothing worse than filling in a web form then waiting and waiting and waiting for a reply especially at the start of a weekend or even worse a long bank holiday, and very often people have problems that can be solved by the site regulars who are always willing to help.

How often do we fill in web-forms and never get an acknowledgement? Very often, which would put many people off filling them in. You can still ask people to state their devices and browsers if you really need to know them.

The wording on the website feedback page says:
Broken link? Unable to sign in? Something else not working as it should? Let us know here.

Want to discuss or suggest a new feature? Join the conversation about Which? Conversation, or suggest an idea on our Ideas board.

Reporting a site issue
If you’re experiencing an error with anything on Which? Conversation (e.g. a broken link, difficulty logging on, etc.) please give us the details using the form below.

Most people will read the above and assume ‘here’ is the web form as no other option is given and most visitors won’t know they can report problems on ‘welcome-to-the-new-which-conversation’ page.

Better wording would be:
Broken link? Unable to sign in? Something else not working as it should? Let us know on the web form below or ask our convo community here.

am moving to a bungalow soon. depends on solicitors getting there fingers out.

I would like to see Which? campaigning against the excessive penalties, and additional costs imposed, when you fail to meet parking regulations n private and public car parks.

Get lots of Parliamentary reports about the private parking. Though it seems to be getting nowhere. Can Which give the minister a nudge? The parking companies still act like vultures? Anyone care to comment?

Headline from the Daily Mail: “Electric cars may be less green than hoped due to polluting particles”.
This piece of scaremongering seems to be based on evidence given by Environment Secretary George Eustice, who should either know better, or not allow his testimony to be misrepresented in this way.

The entire basis for this braking [sic] news, is that EVs tend to be heavier than their ICE counterparts. Therefore, they emit more PM2.5 particulates from tyre wear and brake wear.

In the case of tyre wear, there may be a grain of particulate matter truth in that argument, but tyre wear does not increase linearly with the weight of the vehicle. Otherwise, 40 tonne lorries would need tyres 20 times the size of an EV.

The fact is that all vehicles emit PM2.5 particulates from tyre / road wear and it is largely a function of how the vehicle is driven and on what surfaces. Another headline we could fabricate is that “Walking may be less green that hoped due to rubber heal wear.”

But has the Environment Secretary – or those who are supposed to brief him before giving evidence – never heard of regenerative braking? EVs try to recapture energy lost in slowing down by recharging their batteries. The brakepad wear in a well-driven EV is practically nil.

A correction or retraction is required in the interests of public awareness.

Em, just heading out to a meeting, thought it best to remove my shoes and socks, and go barefoot in order to improve my green credentials.

I think the point that has been made is that because electric vehicles do have brake and tyre wear they do emit particulates, so are not zero emissions. No more than they are just because they are electric, when around 40% of their electricity comes from burning fossil fuels at the generating station, largely natural gas. There are also more emissions created in their manufacture.

I don’t think regenerative braking is sufficient to bring a car to a stop. Perhaps we could have sprung rubber bumpers so we use the vehicle in front?

One way to reduce your emissions in any vehicle is to drive less and use public transport.

roger hodgson says:
4 February 2022

The Russell Hobbs Classic Kettle was a best buy. It is glass which makes it extremely fragile. A slight knock on my tap broke several pieces of the kettle rim making it unusable. No mention of its fragility in the review.

I personally are getting fed up with all the Hype about electric cars, I own two cars ( Diesel ) and both are used to tow trailers or caravans on a regular basis there is not an electric car that could replace these vehicles and if there was I would be unable to afford it, for example what electric car could tow a caravan fully loaded 200 miles, sit in a field for two weeks hitch up and tow back home , it’s no contest at present .

Just had a similar thought when passing a caravan showroom last week. Could the move to electric cars be the beginning of the end for one of our national institutions already dented by the rise in popularity of Motorhomes.

Towing a caravan has only been a “national institution” for about sixty years since the motorways were built and more powerful motor cars became affordable.

Having a caravan holiday has been popular for much longer but that was just staying in a caravan on a caravan park or at a holiday camp for a week.

I think motor homes are better than towed caravans in many respects, but both need a sizeable amount of space for off-street parking and, in my opinion, they spoil the view and look out of place in a residential area.

All these Convos about access to cash has got me thinking about the way employees are being paid their wages.

As nearly all payroll is fully automated and paid into a bank account and faster transfers are operational within the banking industry, I don’t see any good reason for employers to hang on to wages until the end of the month, or even the end of the week, before paying their staff.

In the ideal word, workers would be paid daily for the work they perform and have that money credited to their bank account the next day. There may be some impracticalities where a worker has to clock in / out or have their hours verified, but daily payments with a lag of a few days are sill possible.

This would seem particularly beneficial to those on low wages, who need food to eat and transport costs covered now, not at the end of the month. And for those that are poor at managing money, a daily stream of income would be better than a month-end binge and then struggling through the following month with the aid of a payday loan.

OK just had an email reminding me I haven’t posted anything here yet. To be fair I forgot all about this section of Which after joining it. So how about some news for gardeners. We moved house a year ago and discovered a Morrisons supermarket that appears to have some random and eclectic deliveries of plants way more interesting than other supermarket stock. Early Spring planting deliveries have started again and worth checking your nearest Morrisons if you are filling any gaps in the garden.

Charityman, welcome to Convo. I’m a bit of a sucker for bargain supermarket plants. In the last few weeks I have been tempted into buying a 6’ cherry and a plum tree for £6 each, 5 roses, 2 blueberry and a winter jasmine for £2 each. All bare rooted from Tesco. The weather is fairly mild and the ground is in reasonable condition so they may go in in the next few days – when I can find space in a rather crowded garden.

I must have a look at Morrisons.

Hi Charityman – You might find some Conversations interest from this link: https://conversation.which.co.uk/tag/gardening/

People often restart discussions that are over ten years old, so don’t hesitate to plant your comment and the discussion may spring to life. I did not know that Which? was sending out reminders for not posting and hopefully we will see other new faces. See you around.

I would like a campaign to make food ingredients clearer and to include all hidden preservatives and allergens e.g. sulphites.

A few months ago, I suddenly got hay-fever after drinking wine. Wow, I’m allergic to wine I thought, but the hay-fever hasn’t gone away after giving up wine. Wine does make it a lot worse though.

After much internet research, I came to the conclusion I could have a sulphite allergy.

I started a food diary and searched for foods that did not contain sulphites but found it is mostly a hidden additive used as a preservative and could be in nearly every product in my food cupboard.

My tins of organic chickpeas will almost certainly contain a preservative of some sort but it is not declared. Dried chickpeas on Ocado say ‘may contain sulphites.’ – not helpful.

I am in the early stages of trying to eliminate sulphites from my diet, but shopping for sulphite-free is virtually impossible. Plain meat and veg might be safe to eat, but they need sauces and accompaniments to make them enjoyable and many of their ingredients will come from a jar or bottle that will contain sulphites. A squirt of tomato ketchup has rescued many a sauce.

Some children only have to touch a peanut contaminated object and suffer life-threatening anaphylaxis. Sulphites are a little-discussed subject, so who knows what small quantity creates an allergic reaction?

Food manufacturers are getting very economical with the truth with careful wording meant to obfuscate customers:
– A product might have a long list of ‘no this and that’ so it looks good at first glance but neglect to mention a more controversial ingredient.
– A product might state 100% something but it might be 100% of only one part of the product.
– Not long ago I bought an expensive ready meal in a flash sale, a chicken curry with sauce where rice was way down the list of ingredients. What turned up was a stodgy dish of rice. Water was the main ingredient that when absorbed by the rice made rice the main ingredient.
– Chicory Root that can cause diarrhoea can be listed as inulin, although inulin is a soluble fibre found in many other plants that may cause no problems.
– Milk used to be hidden as lactose or casein but is now listed honestly.
– More recently we see vegan products masquerading as non-meat products such as Louisiana Chick’n Burgers‘ that should be called ‘Wheat Burgers’ as that is the main ingredient. Or Italian-style Meatballs that should be called ‘Pea Protein Balls’. Or ‘Vegetarian Pulled Pork ¼lb Burgers’ that should be called ‘Soya and Wheat Protein Burgers’

Food producers are adding more and more processed additives, chemicals and preservatives to our food – many of them hidden ingredients, at the same time getting more and more creative with their packaging. It is time food labelling had an ’honesty’ overhaul.

This is a list I found of food additives most likely to cause adverse reactions:

We should be able to see ALL hidden ingredients that can cause adverse reactions listed on food packaging. I have read that 1 person in every 100 has a sulphite allergy and whether sulphite is a natural or an added preservative, we deserve to know for the sake of our health and well-being.

Although I do not currently suffer any real food allergies I take an interest in the subject because I had a problem about 25 years ago. As you know, Alfa, the Food Standards Agency provide alerts about food: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts These are often about ingredients, especially potential allergens, that are not listed on the product label. It’s worth anyone who knows they have a problem signing up to receiving email notifications of alerts. Even large respected companies area affected and sometimes it is due to products they buy and sell under their own brand name. Some problems with undeclared ingredients are caused by using machinery to produce different products and there is scope to do a better job in cleaning it before changing its use. It certainly deserves investigation whether companies could do better.

Although I don’t have any real problem with sulphites they can make many white wines unpalatable because of the smell of sulphur dioxide is unpleasant. Price is not a good guide and thankfully. Reds are usually OK.

I wonder whether we have evidence that production machinery is not properly cleaned?

@alfa, have you been professionally checked for a sulphite allergy? I would have thought it worthwhile, if not, so you are sure you are rejecting the correct foods (and wines).

I don’t really like the rather flippant way these sorts of articles are written, but does this one have any merit? https://www.bonappetit.com/drinks/wine/article/sulfite-free-wine

Malcolm – If you follow the FSA reports there are cases of the companies admitting contamination. Products sometimes have warnings where the manufacturers say that they cannot guarantee that products are free of certain allergens, such as nuts.

Thank goodness that people who suffer severe reactions now carry a pen-type injector that can relieve unpleasant symptoms and even save lives.

I do get FSA notifications. Not that many, thankfully. The recent one was “Safi recalls Safi 100% Original Butter Ghee products because they have been produced in an unapproved establishment”. The previous one referred to salmonella in sesame seeds and, before that, reassuringly “The latest wave of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Food and You 2 survey shows that public trust in food safety, authenticity, and the food supply chain remained high, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
26 January 2022

I just wonder when there are problems – fairly rare according to the FSA reports I’ve had – how many are due to incompetent cleaning, particularly by the “reputable” manufacturers.

It’s difficult to know whether those alerts that mention an undeclared ingredient are due to incorrect labelling, inadequate cleaning or contaminated ingredients. A lot of products are manufactured and packaged for supermarkets but the retailer has the responsibility for ensuring that their products comply with the relevant regulations. The problems that are reported by the FSA are the ones they hear about.

Apart from improving manufacturing standards, here is an approach that could help those most at risk: https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/12/new-treatment-to-reduce-effects-of-peanut-allergy-to-benefit-thousands-of-children/

For some time the possibility of using genetic manipulation to eliminate the problem protein that causes anaphylactic shock in susceptible people has been considered. Of course that is a bold step.

It is the proposition that machines aren’t cleaned properly that I am questioning to see what evidence supports that. If a manufacturer is found to be negligent (those within our scope) in that respect then action should be taken and I expect the FSA to have that information (well, I would hope). But I think it fair to support such a suggestion.

Here are some warnings that can be used to warn purchasers of ingredients and contamination during manufacture. The reason for contamination, when it is reported, is rarely disclosed: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10603-017-9358-8/tables/3

The full UK paper can be accessed by clicking the link.

Alfa – Here is a summary of the requirements for labelling of foods: https://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/food-and-drink/labelling-of-prepacked-foods-ingredients-list

If water makes up 5% or more of the finished product then you need to include it in the ingredients list.

This doesn’t apply to water that is intended to be drained away (tuna in brine, for example) or if water has been used to rehydrate a dried or powdered ingredient.

There are ways of concealing water content by including several ingredients such as wine vinegar that have a high water content.

As I have mentioned before, inulin is not one of the fourteen allergens that must be declared: https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/allergen-guidance-for-food-businesses
As it can cause similar problems to gluten it should be declared. As far as I know it is usually present naturally rather than added but that does not help those with a problem.

Thanks for the bonappetit link @malcolmr. You’re right on it being flippant. Wine does not give me headaches which is what they are mainly going on about. They also don’t mention natural and added sulphites. I may be wrong, but from what I have read, grapes have natural sulphites
and organic wine will have minimal additives whereas other wine will contain a lot more especially cheap wine which is what first gave me an allergic reaction.

Cross-contamination can be life-threatening for some allergies like peanuts that only needs a trace to cause anaphylaxis. I have been studying food labels for well over 20 years as my husband is allergic to cows milk and can get an anaphylactic reaction to it and is also diabetic. I am intolerant to milk, cannot tolerate drinking it every day in drinks and cereal but can handle cheese and butter. I once had an argument with a pharmacist who insisted you could only have an intolerance to milk and there was no such thing as a milk allergy.

Hubby had been going to the GP with his allergy symptoms but a milk allergy was never suggested, instead they just kept giving him medications that did nothing for him. It was only after reading an article in a magazine that sounded just like him, we tried a dairy-free diet. We had found the problem, but when he told the GP, it was oh well, if it works for you . . . !

The attitude of our GP surgery sucks which is why I am trying to work out for myself if sulphites are my problem. The only good GP has now retired and if we could change surgeries we would.

Tree pollen starts soon so I won’t be able to tell what is causing my hay fever.

I rarely buy supermarket own-brand processed foods because If you read reviews for them you will frequently read the product has changed which could be because they have found another manufacturer to produce it cheaper.

The ‘may contain’ covers their backsides especially as they use different manufacturers. It could be because a small amount has been added to the product or it may be because the product is manufactured using the same equipment as other products that contain the ‘may contain’. I also get FSA alerts and called one company last year after getting an undeclared milk alert for something in our cupboard. The product did not contain milk but could have a trace from another source which is why to be on the safe side, they put out the recall. After my very honest discussion with the company, I decided it was safe for hubby to eat which it was.

Most of our everyday food is processed by just a few large manufacturers so there has to be some cross-contamination. They could do a run of milk chocolate biscuits followed by a run of dark chocolate (no milk) biscuits that would not require a thorough cleaning in between hence the ‘may contain milk’. Specialist foods often state they are manufactured in an allergen-free factory.

Some few years ago, I wrote and sent bits of round blue plastic found in a soup to Baxters. They would have come from a batch of something like bags or gloves that had a hole punched through it for maybe hanging up. Baxters replied they investigated, and could find nothing that could account for the plastic. So that one would not have found its way to the FSA.

Going through your replies wavechange and malcolm, (thanks for the links) I have just seen the PAL (Precautionary Allergen Labelling) examples. It rather proves my point that PAL needs a serious revamp and more honest declarations. Inulin is not declared in oat milk presumably because it contains less than 2% but it can still cause diarrhoea so should be declared on the packaging along with any other ingredients that can cause adverse reactions no matter how small their quantities. Labels should also state whether they are natural or added.

I wish everyone was able to distinguish between intolerance and allergy, Alfa. It would help promote understanding that intolerance can cause problems but allergy can be very serious, at worst life threatening. It’s disappointing that a pharmacist should not recognise the existence of true milk allergy, which is rare whereas intolerance, usually lactose intolerance, can be seen in a good proportion of adults if they consume large quantities. I’ve generally been impressed by pharmacists and their knowledge but have not discussed allergies.

If I suffered food allergies I would not be happy with disclaimers that warn that products might contain traces of nuts or other allergens that are capable of causing anaphylactic reactions. It’s a bit of a cop-out in my view.

Large food manufacturers do indeed produce food for different retailers, often packaging it under the required brand name. Some retailers will declare the manufacturer and a good example is bottled beers produced for supermarkets. This seems to be done to associate the supermarket product with a respected brewery. Of course it can be done to hide the fact that products in fancy packaging come from the same food processor as budget brands.

Inulin is an common polysaccharide in natural foods and seems to added increasingly because of the health benefits that it is believed to confer. As I have said several times I believe that the approach used for identifying gluten in foods could be used for inulin.

In your position I would be prepared to pay for private investigation of food-related problems. When a colleague was planning to do laboratory research on something I thought might exacerbate my asthma I had tests carried out funded by my employer. Fortunately they did not reveal a problem.

You have mentioned that you are a keen meat eater and I wonder if you have considered that as a possible problem since it can be a problem for a minority of people.

It’s a pity that Shefalee Loth does not write Convos now, although her name still appears in articles. I have a great deal of respect for her contribution.

I have also noticed the absence of Shefalee Loth from our Conversations lately. Her articles were always worth reading and following.

I wonder whether, as part of its food intelligence and research activity, Which? maintains a database of food manufacturers, their brands and own-label operations.

A lot of contract work goes on in the food industry where companies make products for other manufacturers – for example, I believe all the own-label wheat biscuits in the supermarkets are made by Weetabix because there is no other factory in the UK dedicated to that particular style of cereal product.

A lot of food factories are also effectively anonymous as they only make own-label products for food retailers. For every major manufacturer that proclaims that they don’t make products for any other company, there is obviously a shadow supplier making a product as near identical as possible without infringing patents, copyright or critical recipe features.

Some information is openly available, John. Have a look at the own-brand supermarket beers that I mentioned.

From the 2 Sisters Food Group’s website: “We have a strong UK presence in poultry, chilled and bakery food categories, as well as a brand favourite with Holland’s pies. We are also committed to delivering the highest quality products to the British public and to our retail and food service customers. Our customers include Aldi, Asda, Co-op, KFC, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.” Years ago I was given a box of Marks & Spencers biscuits and recognised the obvious similarity to Fox’s biscuits. Then 2SFG took over Fox’s and I believe the brand is now under different ownership. I do not know whether Which? has any insights into food manufacturers and brands, but it must be difficult to keep track. I make my own biscuits these days.

Sometimes the food alerts issued by the FSA provide examples of problem products that have been sold under two or more supermarket or brand names. I have met people who had a very good inside knowledge but that was years ago.

I just thought it might be the sort of useful intelligence that Which? would need to have at its fingertips. I am aware of a number of the sources of own-label products but perhaps it is an unmanageable task to compile and maintain a database.

There is a code on packaging which identifies the production plant for many foodstuffs, but you need the codebook if you want to decipher them. Basically, I feel it would be helpful to various professional organisations to know (a) what each factory makes and for whom, and (b) where each product is made and by whom.

I can tell from the taste where many things are made; for instance, I am fairly sure that Sainsbury’s Bourbon Cream biscuits are made by Fox’s and M&S’s are made by McVitie’s [United Biscuits]. With own-label bottled beer, as you have said, it is a way of associating the trust of a reputable source with a product that many might hesitate to consume. I notice that premium cheese is another product where the supermarkets are anxious to declare the source but for most other cheeses the origins are anonymous.

My guess is that if Which? needed this sort of information it would pay for an investigation. The cost of keeping information up to date could be prohibitive and and the value could be limited. I hope that the Food Standards Agency looks for problems but they may be struggling for funding.

2SFG provides a list of supermarkets they supply food to but we are not told which products. It’s fairly well known that most chicken in the UK is processed for supermarkets by 2SFG and Faccenda.

Although taste and appearance offer powerful clues, don’t forget that companies work to produce products that mimic well known brands. In connection with a Convo about copycat products I found that Lidl had produced a respectable copy of the McVitie’s product at a substantially lower price. With a high pressure liquid chromatograph and other standard lab equipment there is no longer any secret about the taste of Coca Cola.

There are a few number of products such as cheese and bottled beer where we get to know the manufacturer but sadly there is no requirement to declare this.

Sulphite allergy symptoms are unlikely to cause hay fever alfa, but will present flushing, fast heartbeat, wheezing, hives, dizziness, stomach upset, diarrhoea, collapse, tingling or difficulty swallowing.

My allergies started during middle age and have increased with age. Pollen is carried by the wind and early flowering trees are already affecting my eyes. Pollen is trapped in my hair which is transferred to my eyes which makes them feel gritty. A few drops of a proprietary eye lotion immediately solves the problem for me.

Trees that start producing pollen from early February include hazel, yew, alder, and willow, and ash and birch are also wakening up after their winter dormancy. Hazel and yew seem to be the worst offenders, hitting their highs until mid-March.

I am also allergic to mould spores and dust of any kind that causes hay fever like symptoms. A process of elimination will no doubt help you with your quest to discover the cause of your hay fever, but based on the fact that you have continued to drink wine with no further problems, it’s hardly likely to be the trigger of your hay fever.

The following website provides a month-by-month guide to allergies:

everydayhealth.com – Your Month-by-Month Guide to Allergies.

Sulphur dioxide (E220) and various sulphites (E221-228) are essentially the same thing. They are bad news for many asthmatics but like Beryl I am not aware that they can trigger hay fever. Avoiding wine for a month should give a clear answer.

With allergies the synergistic effect is extremely important, so that two triggers can have much more effect than one. For example my asthma is affected by some dogs and by having a cold. I can cope with either but both at the same time is a real problem. Stress does not seem to affect me but for some people it can be exacerbate allergic reactions including skin conditions.

Hi Beryl,
If you read the whole article after the search results for ‘sulphite allergy symptoms’, it says:

3. What types of adverse reactions are caused by sulfites?
Asthma symptoms are the most common adverse reactions caused by sulfites:

Wheezing, chest tightness and coughing are estimated to affect 5-10% of people with asthma.
Symptoms are more likely when asthma is poorly controlled.
Adverse reactions to sulfites can occasionally occur when there is no preceding history of asthma.
Sulfites can also cause allergy like reactions (intolerances), with symptoms such as wheezing in people with asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and urticaria (hives).

In very rare cases it is possible that sulfites may have caused anaphylaxis, the most severe type of allergic reaction. Symptoms include flushing, fast heartbeat, wheezing, hives, dizziness, stomach upset and diarrhoea, collapse, tingling or difficulty swallowing.

Many of these reactions when fully assessed have been found not to be anaphylaxis, or caused by triggers other than sulfites.

4. What are the mechanisms for adverse reactions to sulfites?
Mechanisms for adverse reactions can vary, and include:

Reflex contraction of the airways caused by inhaling sulfur dioxide. This mechanism may explain the rapid onset of symptoms when drinking liquids like beer or wine, when sulfur dioxide is inhaled during the swallowing process.
A partial deficiency of the enzyme sulfite oxidase (which helps to break down sulfur dioxide), in some people with asthma who react to sulfites.
Other mechanisms yet to be fully understood.

I have read many articles over the last week or so trying to understand what is going on with me and never believe the first thing I read. If I do have a sulphite allergy, it is slightly concerning because I also have asthma.

I have been trying organic wine that will contain mostly natural sulphites and have not been quite as bad on them. In between I tried a non-organic and that triggered my hay-fever into action.

Yesterday, my hay fever was quite bad so last night I thought sod it, it can’t get any worse so took an antihistamine, stuck my head over a bowl of menthol in hot water then had organic wine with steak, jacket potato and coleslaw and actually felt better a bit later. Go figure !!!!!

I have had allergies my whole life, with pollen my earliest memory, then cats, metals, perfumes and chemicals that either give me hay fever or rashes. Although I am allergic to dust, it only makes me sneeze a bit and apart from pollen, I manage to avoid most of them so they rarely affect me. My indicator for when tree pollen is in the air is to look at the roof of the car that will be covered in it. Yesterday, it was still clean so the tree pollen hasn’t started to affect me yet. When pollen gets into my eyes, they itch like hell until I use eye drops or give them an eye bath. Eye drops tend to stop the irritation better.

A quick way to check for sensitivity to sulphur dioxide (= sulphites) is to sniff at a pack of dried apricots just after opening or a solution of sodium metabisulphite, which amateur winemakers use to disinfect equipment. Both make me gasp for breath and smell horrible but the effect soon passes.

Thank goodness we have low sulphur petrol and diesel and coal is being phased out for power generation and domestic use.

Unfortunately I have neither wavechange.

Here is an article that mentions some of the foods that contain sulphur dioxide or sulphites, usually added as a preservative. https://www.allergyuk.org/resources/sulphites-and-airway-symptoms-factsheet/ It has a longer list of E-numbers to watch for. 🙁

Sulphur dioxide is volatile and is I believe the problem chemical. Sulphites release sulphur dioxide at low pH, i.e. acidic conditions. Wine is fairly acidic and I find the sulphur dioxide spoils the taste but I can drink it and eat dried apricots, etc.

As you have discovered, allergies can change. For the last couple of years I have experienced fairly mild hay fever symptoms, something that has never been a problem. A food allergy that I had 25 years ago has now long gone. Thankfully it has usually been very obvious what is causing me a problem but many people really struggle to track it down, which is where professional advice can help.

Few understand allergies unless they have a problem. I take a non-sedating antihistamine tablet daily and combined with three asthma inhalers I can forget I’m an asthmatic if I can stay away from triggers such as some cats and dogs.

I’m still trying to understand sulphites, so thanks for the sulphur dioxide explanation wavechange.

The list of foods and drinks that contain sulphites on allergyuk is similar to other lists but doesn’t include food in jars and tins. I bought a couple of avocados to eat with tuna but have since read tinned tuna is high in sulphites. I eat tuna about once a week and may be one of the reasons why my hay fever hasn’t stopped along with all the other foods I normally consume that also apparently contain sulphites. I just don’t know yet.

AllergyUK also suggest there is an allergy test. From what I have read elsewhere I thought there were no tests and the only way was by elemination.

Some years ago, I thought I had grown out of summer hay fever, but it was short lived. As a child I was given antihistamines every day and eventually became immune to them so for years just suffered every summer. They still don’t work that well and I take them sparingly, but are better than nothing. Every time a new one comes out I try it but as they are based on the same few active ingredients it doesn’t make much difference.

I’m learning too, Alfa. Discussions on Convo encourage me to look for information. There are sulphite test sticks for water testing, but I don’t know if they are any use for food and drink because, depending on how they work, other chemicals could interfere. Again a specialist could advise.

The list of foods on Allergy UK is not exhaustive, as it says, and as you know, sulphites can be present naturally. It’s important to understand that sulphites cause a problem by releasing sulphur dioxide, the chemical that causes the problem, particularly at low pH.

I take fexofenadine, a non-sedating antihistamine, and that is effective after years of use, as I’m reminded if I forget my daily pill.

Sorry, I’ve only just got round to replying wavechange.

Fexofenadine is interesting and one I have never heard of. Do you need to take them all the time or will they work on the odd occasion you might have an allergic reaction to something? I have asked doctors if there was anything different I could take, but the answer has always been no and I might get a prescription if I happen to be at the GP, but usually I just buy them.

I once had allergy tests followed by a set of tailored injections. I had to have one a week for 12 weeks then same again next spring. The first jab itched with a slight swollen arm, each jab was worse than the last until the 6th when the itch was unbearable and my arm swollen up like a balloon. I didn’t bother having the rest.

Hi Alfa – fexofenadine (generic name of drug) has been a prescription only medicine for many years, so the GP or specialist would be the best person to advise. I understand one of the many brands has been pushing for it to be made available without prescription.

Having looked through the leaflet provided with the Telfast brand I cannot see any cautions about discontinuing use other than the obvious comment that symptoms could recur. There are various cautions about taking it in the first place which is presumably why it was classified as prescription only.

I have used fexofenadine daily for at least ten years and before that took loratadine until a specialist advised the change. One difference between these drugs and others is that they are non-sedating.

I have been taking fexofenadine 180mg for a few years now. I was prescribed this after developing what I thought was an allergy to pine resin after handling timber. In fact, it is pressure urticaria (hives) and I can even get it through thick outer clothing if the force on my skin is great enough, e.g. carrying a 20kg cardboard box.

Anyway, the point is Alfa, I only take it as required. I asked the GP why I couldn’t just take over-the-counter antihistamines. The answer was simply that they had not been tested and approved for this condition.

I also suffered from terrible hayfever as a child, but I have gradually grown out of it, so my symptoms are less severe. I prefer to reduce exposure rather than take drugs, so I sleep in an air-conditioned bedroom with the windows closed at night and use an air purifier. If I mow the lawn, I try to wear a face mask and make sure I change my clothes and shower when I come in.

The next time I talk to a GP I will ask if I can try it. I can’t book an appointment online, can’t message or email the surgery and the phone is permanently engaged. I have discovered I can get my inhalers through the post now, so have changed that online.

I get a hot itchy rash whenever I cut the leylandii and just rub some cream into it. It’s usually calmed down by the next day.

For pollen, I can often get away with just eye drops, but it varies from year to year and I also usually tend to control exposure rather than take medication. I don’t have air-con, but do have an air purifier that has really made a difference to the indoor air quality.

The air-con is just to avoid the need to fling the windows open on hot summer nights. It does nothing for the interior air quality.

Our surgery has just started offering eConsult. I described a long-term medical problem – persistent cold-like symptoms that never fully develop – and was phoned back the next day by a GP and offered an appointment to see him the following morning. Quite impressed with this and it saves everyone’s time. I’ve been prescribed a nasal spray I need to use for three months to try and clear it up. It’s almost certainly allergy related, but the trigger could now be anything. And fexofenadine doesn’t seem to help.

Some years ago I joined a ‘Balsam Bash’ to help tackle the growing problem of Himalayan Balsam. The first year I was OK but the following year I woke up during the night to find my eye so swollen that it was completely shut and rather painful. I was taken to a walk-in centre at the weekend and was prescribed 180 mg fexofenadine tablets, which either did the trick or the problem disappeared. My normal dose is 120 mg. I’m not sure if HB was the cause but now I just encourage others to join in.

Em is right about drugs having licensed uses.

Em, your symptoms aren’t since having the last booster are they? My arm itched within the 20 minutes wait after having it.

Alfa – No it’s not connnected. I’ve had it on and off for over 20 years and no one could find a solution. It got quite bad during lockdown and started to result in a persistent cough, which of course has to be investigated.

The GP is of the opinion that my nasal membranes are quite inflamed from some unknown allergen triggers (dust, mites, dog hair, mould). The point is it doesn’t matter what causes it any more – it’s become over-sensitive to any irritant. Antihistamines don’t work.

He has prescribed Avamys (fluticasone fluroate) which is working quite well to reduce the persistent trickle down my throat, which was the cause of the cough, and the cold-like symptoms are easing.

(Sorry – wouldn’t go into so much detail here, but there is no way to PM Alfa)

I sympathise Em as I have similar problems. I don’t know if there is any connection to the booster but my allergies are usually inhaled or on the skin not put into my body. I will try and get a different brand booster next time though just in case it was the trigger to my current hay-fever.

I had never considered antihistamines don’t work if you get over-sensitive. I just assumed I had built up an immunity to them.

I recently checked what our indoor humidity should be and found it a bit on the low side. Raising it has maybe helped a little.

I’ve asked George to pass on my email address to you.

Alfa, I am sorry to learn that like Wavechange you also suffer from asthma, and I’m confident he is better placed to offer advice than I.

I am wondering if you also need a second trigger to develop your hay fever? I do hope you will soon discover the cause by a process of elimination. Keep us posted when you do!

Will do Beryl.

Today I have tried to be sulphate free and have no hay fever at the moment.