What Are Aspartame Allergy Symptoms?

Dorothy Bland
Dorothy Bland
Dermatological effects from aspartame use can include rashes and hives.
Dermatological effects from aspartame use can include rashes and hives.

The most common aspartame allergy symptoms are headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Some have asserted that these headaches lead to painful migraines that can present with an additional crop of aspartame-related side effects, including decreased vision, eye pain, and increased sensitivity to noise. Supplementary eye-related issues such as blurriness and tunnel vision have also been described.

An aspartame allergy may cause skin hives.
An aspartame allergy may cause skin hives.

The majority of published research, leading health organizations, and regulatory bodies around the world have found that aspartame is typically safe for use. A significant percentage of the general public and anti-aspartame activists, however, continue to warn of the product's downsides. In fact, close to 100 unverified allergy symptoms have been associated with aspartame and include effects related to neurological, behavioral and digestive issues.

Headaches are a common symptom of aspartame allergies.
Headaches are a common symptom of aspartame allergies.

Gastrointestinal-related upsets tend to be another major complaint by those who have aspartame allergy symptoms. Typical digestive issues that may occur include diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting that generally occurs with abdominal pain and cramping. For some, allergies triggered by aspartame show up as neurological complications, such as memory loss, lethargy, and mood swings. Others state that their symptoms are dermatological and present with hives; rashes; and swelling of the lips, hands, or other areas of the body.

Some people report mood swings and memory loss after ingesting aspartame.
Some people report mood swings and memory loss after ingesting aspartame.

Although not an aspartame allergy, phenylketonuria (PKU) should prompt sufferers to take care to avoid any products containing aspartame. Anyone suffering from this inherited disorder is unable to process phenylalanine, an amino acid that aspartame breaks down in the small intestines. Persons with PKU who then consume aspartame could end up with high levels of phenylalanine in the body. For PKU patients, high levels of the substance can do serious damage to the central nervous system, leading to permanent brain damage and mental retardation.

Dizziness is a common symptom of an aspartame allergy.
Dizziness is a common symptom of an aspartame allergy.

It can be hard to tell if a person is actually allergic to aspartame. There is no way to test if synthetic substances like aspartame could trigger allergic reactions. To complicate matters even further, the artificial sweetener is found in a wide range of food and drink products, including diet sodas, flavored bottled waters, and table top sweeteners.

An aspartame allergy may result in dizziness and vomiting.
An aspartame allergy may result in dizziness and vomiting.

Multiple individuals who believe they suffer from aspartame side effects report that their symptoms start out mild and steadily become more progressive over the ensuing weeks and months. For many, these symptoms apparently begin to disappear once they stop consuming products that include aspartame. Generally, the recommended method of determining if an adverse reaction to aspartame is responsible for negative effects is to completely remove all sources of the artificial sugar from the diet. A consultation with an allergist or a medical professional might also be the most appropriate course of action.

How Common Is Aspartame Allergy?

There is still a lot of research that needs to be done into the effects of aspartame on the human body. Since it is technically a synthetic substance and not a food, measuring allergic reactions to it can be challenging. In fact, nutrition and allergy specialists often describe reactions as a result of consuming aspartame as an aspartame intolerance rather than an allergy.

How Common is Phenylketonuria?

One of the main risk factors for aspartame poisoning is having the preexisting health condition, phenylketonuria. This condition is not especially common, only occurring in one in every 10,000 to 15,000 people in the United States. Having phenylketonuria makes consuming anything with aspartame dangerous. 

Phenylketonuria is a genetic condition that can be passed down to children from their parents. It is usually identified by doctors shortly after a baby is born, so those who have it are generally well aware of their condition from an early age. 

How To Test for Aspartame Allergy

Unless you have phenylketonuria, it can be difficult to determine whether you are intolerant to aspartame or not. For some people, allergy symptoms similar to that of other food allergies may arise, while in others, the substance may cause gastrointestinal problems. 

One of the things you can do if you are concerned about aspartame's effect on your health is to pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods. This advice only applies to people who consume aspartame regularly and are wondering if it is causing them to feel somewhat unwell. Be aware that if you have a serious allergy to the substance, the reaction could be lifethreatening. If a doctor or medical professional has advised that you do not consume it, it is best to avoid it altogether. 

Respiratory Reactions

While research into the potential reactions that aspartame can cause to the body is ongoing, there are a few to watch out for. Firstly, are common allergy symptoms that affect the respiratory system. While they can be as minor as an itchy throat and mouth, they can also become serious.

A reaction becomes dangerous when shortness of breath and swelling around the throat makes breathing difficult. This may cause pain, itchiness, and dizziness. Regardless of what you have been eating, if you begin to experience these symptoms you should call 911. They can be a sign of a serious allergic reaction that could cause anaphylactic shock, which is potentially deadly.

Gastrointestinal Reactions

Gastrointestinal reactions include anything related to the stomach and digestion. Common reactions to eating a food that your body is intolerant to include diarrhea or constipation, gas, bloating, and pain. In most cases, these are less serious than respiratory reactions, but if they start to feel urgent or intense it may be a good idea to see a doctor. 

Staying hydrated and eating simple foods that do not irritate the stomach can be a good way to treat symptoms at home. Even if you are not diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance to aspartame, being aware of foods that give you indigestion or make you feel sick can be important to your self-care. Even feeling mildly sick can affect your ability to operate at your best, so avoiding these foods is usually a good idea. 

Can You Develop an Aspartame Allergy?

The FDA has approved aspartame for use in food, and many scientific studies have shown that it is safe in small amounts. That being said, it may be more likely for you to have adverse reactions to it if it is consumed frequently.

Since some people consume aspartame in large quantities by sipping on diet soda throughout the day, overdoing it is a concern to be aware of. While you may not currently notice any adverse reactions to consuming aspartame, it can be a good idea to monitor how you are feeling afterwards and take note of any changes that occur. 

Removing Aspartame From Your Diet

Some companies, such as Pepsi, have removed aspartame from various products in response to health concerns from customers. If you are looking to cut it out of your diet, consider shopping carefully for options that do not contain it.

If you want a diet-friendly sweetener to reduce your sugar intake, you might try natural options such as stevia or monk fruit. These options have fewer calories than sugar but can still add a sweet flavor to food. Some diet sodas are beginning to use them in place of aspartame. You can also avoid purchasing foods labeled as diet options and stick with traditional sweeteners.

Aspartame Allergy Hives

Hives are one of the less commonly reported symptoms of an aspartame allergy, but it’s not unheard of. Those who say they’ve experienced this reaction describe a breakout of intensely itchy patches on the skin that are swollen and red. This breakout can be accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the lips and mouth.

Aspartame-induced hives are sometimes called urticaria and angioedema—both of which are medical terms for hives. The exact causal relationship between aspartame and hives is yet to be determined, but there are several studies that have confirmed the phenomenon. One such study concluded that a hive reaction to aspartame may be chronic, but it may also appear in an acute or delayed form, too.

There are several lines of treatment that may be used to treat hives that emerge after an allergic reaction to aspartame. Prior to 1999, an antihistamine drug called astemizole was identified as a promising treatment option, but this drug was pulled from the market due to reports of side effects that were potentially fatal. A standard treatment regimen has not been established since.

Aspartame and Nausea

Hives aren’t the only problem that can emerge in the wake of aspartame exposure. Many people who experience an allergic reaction report that they also have feelings of nausea after they’ve consumed aspartame. In fact, this is sometimes reported even amongst people who have no known allergy to aspartame.

For those who are allergic — or who suffer from phenylketonuria — nausea can be caused by the body’s struggle to metabolize aspartame after consumption. For those who aren’t allergic — but who still experience nausea — it can be triggered by the gastrointestinal upset that frequently happens as the body struggles to digest the aspartame. Both reactions may cause feelings of unwellness and nausea immediately after consumption.

To combat nausea after aspartame, you can drink some cold water and eat some bland foods like crackers or rice. You should avoid any rigorous physical activity, and if at all possible, lay down to get some rest. Supplements that contain ginger, peppermint, or cinnamon may also be helpful in calming the stomach. If you regularly get nauseous after eating aspartame, you should be careful to avoid it in the future.

How To Treat Aspartame Poisoning

In severe cases, an adverse reaction may be serious enough that it constitutes aspartame poisoning. Symptoms may include breathlessness, a spike in blood pressure, and heart palpitations. You may also have symptoms of gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps in the abdomen.

These symptoms are most commonly associated with phenylketonuria. In these cases, the accumulation of phenylalanine may cause aspartame poisoning, and this can lead to the damage of nerve cells. If this happens, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately in order to prevent any further damage caused by the aspartame. Aspartame poisoning is not usually considered a fatal condition, but if left untreated, it can cause serious distress and injury in the affected person.

Discussion Comments

anon991968

I have been drinking low calorie lemonade sweetened with this product, for many months. Over the last week, I have had symptoms mimicking stroke, and also terrible rash. Originally had severe skin pain, muscle pain and joint pain. I stopped drinking the aspartame product two days ago, and the muscle pain and skin pain subsided and rash is retreating. I do believe this product is harmful and can build up in your system to a poisonous level.

anon956514

I don't get the headaches or diarrhea, but I do feel like an alien is going to pop out my chest and diaphragm area. I cut out diet drinks a couple weeks ago and had one diet coke and the symptoms came back.

anon944184

I've know aspartame has given me headaches for years (drinking just one soda with aspartame will give me a headache). One time, thinking (incorrectly) I could build up a tolerance, I kept drinking sodas with aspartame. After a few days (when I was on a business trip), I broke out with hives on my back. I was miserable for three days until they went away (saw a doctor after the second day, and he gave a cream to use and suggested I stop drinking sodas with aspartame). As far as I know, that is the only thing I'm allergic to. I have never been officially tested, but I list it every time I'm asked about allergies.

anon344926

I had a cocktail at a friend's party that contained a flavored vodka with aspartame. Since alcohol masks the bitter taste of aspartame, I couldn't taste it and didn't know I was ingesting it. Six hours later I was in the ER with the mother of all migraines, vomiting, and covered in hives. 50mg Benadryl via IV nuked it, but this was after six different kinds of anti-nausea drugs that had no effect. I thought maybe I'd had a drink with cranberry, but there was no cranberry anywhere in the house and therefore in none of the drinks, so it was definitely an allergic reaction to aspartame.

They had to hold me for 24 hours for observation. I've had more fun in my life, believe me. So to those who say one can't be allergic to this, believe me, one can, and I am. *sigh* At least it's easy to avoid--no diet soda, no flavored vodka, and I'm good to go.

anon341417

I was hospitalized last September and was actually air lifted to another hospital. They thought I was having a stroke. I had extremely low blood sugar (36). I am not diabetic. I had slurred speech, numbness through my entire top side of my body. The "episodes" lasted for hours over many days.

They ran every test possible (even had a psychologist exam me!) They finally diagnosed me with basilar migrains and aspartame poisoning. I have been using sugar free products for 20 years. I stopped using it (had crystal light in the hospital) while I was still in the hospital (five days total). The day after I stopped any aspartame, the episodes reduced in both frequency, and duration. I couldn't believe it! I have not had any more "episodes" since two weeks after stopping all aspartame. Let everyone know about this! --Lynn E., Huntley, IL

anon336663

I had no idea about aspartame until my 2 year old daughter became very very ill over a few months and no doctor we saw could explain it. Someone told me about aspartame, so I researched it and I was horrified.

Since I have stopped buying anything containing aspartame in it, she hasn't been ill at all. She was having violent projectile vomiting accompanied with diarrhea. Now, nothing. I've told everyone I know about it, but nobody listens!

anon327855

My sister and I are both allergic to "aspartame" and artificial sweeteners. The reaction is a migraine typically, but it has been over 25 years since I consumed any that I don't recall other symptoms.

The withdrawal was very similar to someone addicted to a drug. It was terrible. I wish my boyfriend (a diabetic) would stop consuming the artificial sweeteners (he gets headaches and diarrhea) but being convinced that he is diabetic he can "only" have this crap is just marketing, and he consumes more.

My mother used to make jello with aspartame in it, and she said that there was no way I could taste it. Yes I could. It's distinctive. I wish they would stop making artificial poisons and convincing mass populations that it's a great alternative. Wake up, people. It's poison.

orangey03

I had no idea that aspartame could cause migraines! That is probably why my friend keeps getting these headaches.

He drinks diet soda every day, and almost every day, he gets a debilitating migraine. I have to tell him to stop!

feasting

@kylee07drg – Yes, they are. I once ate a bunch of pieces of sugar-free hard candy at work because I was bored, and I got a bad case of diarrhea.

That time, sorbitol was to blame. It was the sweetener in the candy, and to me, it tasted a lot better than aspartame.

However, I have had gastrointestinal issues from eating too much aspartame, too. Natural sugar is just so much better for you, even if it does contain more calories!

kylee07drg

Aspartame is in foods that are made for diabetics. I am not diabetic, but I once tried to eat some of these foods to cut down on the amount of sugar in my diet.

I tried sugar-free brownies and cookies. They tasted awful! I don't know how anyone gets used to this flavor.

Also, they made me have diarrhea. Artificial sweeteners are notorious for that, aren't they?

JackWhack

It's hard to avoid aspartame entirely. I have noticed that while I react to larger amounts of it, tiny amounts don't really do anything to me.

I had been drinking diet soda for about a year, and I averaged one or two cans a day. I had become so fatigued and depressed, but I didn't know what was wrong.

A friend told me that the aspartame in my diet soda was to blame. I switched back to regular soda, and I started feeling so much better.

Aspartame in gum doesn't bother me, because it is just a small amount, and I don't chew it for very long. I just chew it long enough to get food out of my teeth.

lluviaporos
@irontoenail - Most doctors seem to think there's no such thing as an MSG allergy as well and one of my roommates was always able to tell when it was in food because he'd get a migraine. He'd get one if there was MSG regardless of whether he knew it was there or not.

I agree that there should be more testing. It says on the article that it's difficult to test for symptoms but they account for the placebo effect when testing any other kind of disease or cure, so why not use those same protocols for these tests? Personally, I think there's no funding for that kind of test, because allergy sufferers are few and far between and those who make money from the aspartame chemical would rather not make a fuss.

irontoenail
@umbra21 - The problem is that there are a lot of people who have heard bad things about aspartame and think that they are allergic to it, so they have symptoms as though they were allergic to it, even though they aren't. It's very difficult for doctors to sort through those kinds of symptoms. You'd have to make the test up so that the person had no possible way of suspecting if they were eating aspartame or not.

I'm not saying that it's not possible that some people have an allergy. But it's difficult to sort through who does and who simply thinks they do. The placebo effect is a powerful thing.

umbra21

@anon286766 - I'm sorry that you have that kind of reaction to something that is found in so many foods these days. It can be tough to have something like that which hasn't been fully accepted and documented by the medical community.

I actually think it's a good idea for someone with your symptoms to try getting hold of people in the medical community who can document your symptoms so that they can go on record.

And at least it's a synthetic compound that you're allergic to, rather than something wholesome. Homemade foods taste better than aspertame filled foods anyway.

anon286766

I immediately black out and have cold sweats when I have aspartame. This has been a problem for me since the free, rainbow colored gum balls were sent in the mail advertising Nutrasweet. I can smell the "poison", if someone is near me with aspartame gum in their mouth. If I smell diet soda, I get a carsick feeling and pressure between my eyes. Aspartame is in almost all gum, even if it's not a "less sugar" brand. It's now in Hubba Bubba, Juicy Fruit and Bubble Gum Tape. It's also in chewable kids medicines. Read the labels. Most doctors say there is no such thing as an aspartame allergy, but I always write it on medical forms.I hope this can help someone. --Lori K., Long Island NY

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    • Dermatological effects from aspartame use can include rashes and hives.
      By: casi
      Dermatological effects from aspartame use can include rashes and hives.
    • An aspartame allergy may cause skin hives.
      By: Jürgen Fälchle
      An aspartame allergy may cause skin hives.
    • Headaches are a common symptom of aspartame allergies.
      Headaches are a common symptom of aspartame allergies.
    • Some people report mood swings and memory loss after ingesting aspartame.
      By: Tatyana Gladskih
      Some people report mood swings and memory loss after ingesting aspartame.
    • Dizziness is a common symptom of an aspartame allergy.
      By: 9nong
      Dizziness is a common symptom of an aspartame allergy.
    • An aspartame allergy may result in dizziness and vomiting.
      By: Photographee.eu
      An aspartame allergy may result in dizziness and vomiting.