A 23-year-old who had eaten triple fried rice around 8pm one evening was rushed to Dr Himmat Bawaskar’s hospital around 6.30am the next day facing difficulty in breathing, swallowing or speaking. Dr Bawaskar discovered that the patient’s uvula -the pendulum-like projection hanging above the throat -was so swollen, it was touching the base of his tongue.”We couldn’t examine his throat because of this swelling,” said the doctor, who has published a report on the incident in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine.
Experts say the first thing a doctor is likely to ask a patient complaining of migraine is whether they had just eaten Chinese food.”MSG could be the cause of migraine in people who are sensitive to it,” said Dr Altaf Patel, director of medicine at Jaslok Hospital, adding that the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was a well-recognised phenomenon first described in the early seventies. “It is not common, but it isn’t unheard of,” he added.
Why is MSG a problem?
“Australian studies have shown that MSG produces an gioedema -swelling underneath the skin -16 hours after ingestion,” said Dr Bawaskar. Chinese food also contains preservatives such as meta-bisulfate soya sauce, and colouring agents such as sunset yellow or tartrazine that could stimulate allergic reactions.
Dr Bawaskar’s report reads, “A sensitive individual may suffer from headache, giddiness, sweating, abdominal pain, and urticaria (rashes) within a few hours of consumption of MSG. Angioedema (swelling of tissues) may be delayed up to eight to 16 hours after.. and it may persist for 24 hours.”
Dr Bawaskar said the swelling of the uvula can be life threatening unless patients and physicians are aware of unusual medical reaction to MSG. As for his 23-year-old patient, the doctor gave him an adrenaline injection, which helped the swelling subside.