HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Pho Attack

I ate a nice bowl of Pho Tai about an hour ago. About the time I finished slurping it up, I felt this WEIRD sensation. Like my head was being compressed. From my collarbones, up my neck and into my temples, the strangest sensation. I was worried for a moment I would pass out, but it was not so much the lightheadedness of a vasovagal reaction, more like the increase in blood pressure and pounding head you get when you go anaerobic on a hot day. But that's not an exact description either.

I drove back to work, and was scared the whole time. I still feel the sensation, but it's slowly diminishing.

I eat Pho alot, but never in this particular restaurant before. I have never had any sort of MSG reaction, or any other food allergy or sensitivity (other than aspartame makes me vomit). I'm very healthy, with low/moderate blood pressure.

WHAT THE HECK???? Does this ring any bells with anyone? I love pho!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It really sounds like an msg reaction... I think that allergies and food reactions are frequently trumped up and taken too far but you may have experienced one. Remember that allergies can come on at any time. They can also happen once and then never again.

    On the other hand it may have nothing at all to do with the pho.

    Either way, do not stop eating pho!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kater

      thanks. I am now about 2 hours post-pho and feel normal again.

      yeah, I don't want to give up pho either...maybe I'll have to treat it like wine next time...only partake when I have a designated driver!

      1. re: danna

        To paraphrase the Scots...

        Danna fast yerself.

        (I am sure you can work it out.)

    2. Well, it happened again. Almost 4 years later, and in a different restaurant. It's like all the muscles around my skull are being compressed. lips tingling just a bit.

      This happened again once in the intervening years, same restaurant as the first time. I stopped going there. I've had pho at other places many times since, no reaction.

      It's always pho...never any other food in asian restaurants. So is it MSG? Or could it be massive amounts of sodium? My bp last week was 104/70, so you'd think if it were sodium, it would kill people w/ high bp. Any ideas? Anybody?????

      3 Replies
      1. re: danna

        It does sound like MSG, between the tingling lips and the facial pressure.

        1. re: danna

          It is almost certainly *not* an MSG reaction as by and large they don't really exist

          There's likely some obscure ingredient that you have an allergy to.

          1. re: jgg13

            Nobody wants to hear that. They want something simple they can blame.

        2. First, you should ask your doctor.

          But things to think about if it is a food reaction . . . .

          When you say you each Pho all the time - is this happening at the same restaurant? When you eat Pho at other restaurants are you fine?

          I would hate to have to cut out Pho - especially since most of the ingredients in Pho are in so many other dishes . . . .

          2 Replies
          1. re: thimes

            thanks. i don't understand why the posts are showing up out of order...but to try to clarify:

            This happened twice at the same restaurant several years ago. i stopped going there, have had Pho at various other restaurants w/out this occurance, until Monday, when I revived this thread. Monday's occurance was at an entirely different restuarant where I have had the Pho once previously.

            A quick google brings up the old "chinese restaurant syndrome" that people used to say was MSG, but has been supposedly "debunked". Maybe not....If it is MSG, and MSG is used like a seasoning....perhaps it's just a matter of an occasional heavy-hand with the MSG. ??? maybe? Anyway, i was hoping someone might have had a similar experience to share.

            1. re: danna

              I very occasionally have something like what you're describing, most of the time it happens at dim sum (although impossible to say more granularly than that).

              Obviously it's easy to point fingers at MSG but that's silly. I cook with MSG a lot in my home cooking, not to mention less controversial forms of glutamates (e.g. dried mushroom powder, fish sauce, worcester, etc), often layered heavily to build a strong umami presence. I can guarantee that if I had *any* sort of MSG sensitivity (which is a condition IMO is 99.9% incorrectly blamed) I'd know about it.

              My theory is that I have a mild allergy to something which tends to track with dim sum, or at least something which I tend to only eat as part of specific dim sum items.

          2. Some Pho restaurants use a powdered mix for the broth instead of making their own. Perhaps there is an ingredient in one of the powdered mixes that doesn't agree with you? Or an intermittent issue with the production/supplier of the mix?

            1. Just had a similar experience and was googling this to see if I'm crazy. I have eaten pho maybe twice before without incident. went to a place in Chinatown, Philly today...10 min into my pho it felt like my head was being squished and I might pass out. my heart was racing off the charts. it felt like the sensation I get when stung by a bee, I have a slight allergy. I chugged down a kirin and the heart race stopped but I still felt out of sorts and a bit sick to my stomach. I am prone to panic attacks so the heart race may have been an after symptom from the lightheadness and head in a vice feeling but idk. wondering if there is a certain spice or something only some places use that I may be hypersensitive to? I don't want to be scared of pho...

              3 Replies
              1. re: crashinglightly

                I'm glad I noticed your post. Scary thing when it happens, huh? Glad you survived and if you figure out what it is, please post. I don't like being afraid of pho either!

                1. re: danna

                  Wow! I've never heard of this. How scary.

                  Have you ever asked a doctor?


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    What could that event be called? Getting Pho'd Up? We must also remember that certain raw herbs including even ginger have strong effects that vary according to the person.

              2. Might be the MSG, salt, and sugar mix. Some places (not all) mix their MSG with additional salt, and sugar. You could have experienced that sugar *rush* or that sudden rise in BP (or even both). You'd have to ask the eatery if they "mix-a-lot".

                5 Replies
                1. re: Cheese Boy

                  Please point to a peer reviewed article in a legit journal that says that MSG causes any sort of reaction.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    I know what you're driving at jgg13, but researchers DO acknowledge that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. The "MSG symptom complex" (as its known) does exist.

                    1. re: Cheese Boy

                      "May" is key.

                      I don't doubt that some extremely small percentage of how population might have some sort of msg sensitivity. However, any person claiming this has upwards of a 100% chance of being full of bologna

                2. I had this happen way back around Christmas. Bowl of beef pho followed a few minutes later by compressing sensation around the eyes and racing heartbeat. I lay down in the dark and drank a couple of bottles of water and it was gone in a half hour, but it was bizarre when it happened.

                  I'm a lot more willing to blame salt than MSG. I salt my own cooking pretty lightly and eat out maybe once a month so pho is probably the saltiest thing I ate last year. I also don't eat much sugar outside of fruits and vegetables so that may have compounded it. Plus I've made dashi from kombu and bonito flakes plenty of times and I would think if I was allergic to MSG that would have done something too, but it's always been fine. I will point out that I salt dashi pretty lightly too, though.

                  Oddly enough I went on a pho-making binge back in March and made about 5 different versions and never had the experience again.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                    wow. pretty weird that at least 3 people on this thread have had very similar, and quite ODD symptoms. Having your head feel compressed is fairly specific, unlike the typical vague stomach upset, headache, etc. You'd think someone would have figured it out by now.

                    I'm thinking the "unusual ingredient" + allergy/sensitivity theory may be the best one suggested here. Since it only happens (at least for me) with Pho, that seems to rule out salt and MSG as likely culprits, as they surely exist in other foods.

                    1. re: danna

                      Or three people have underlying medical conditions that have nothing to do with food and the symptoms were simply coincidental. This is simple statistics, three people out of the many who eat Pho will not be at all significant and can be simply by chance and for completely different reasons.

                      Put another way if a number of people have heart attacks in steak restaurants does that mean eating a steak initiates a heart attack?

                      1. re: PhilD

                        Well, let's ignore the other three , then.

                        I, personally, if I had a heart attack 3 times, each time immediately after finishing a steak, I would suspect steak did initiate my heart attack.

                        And as for the pho, I am a competitve endurance athlete with no underlying medical conditions. I DO tend to be have occasional sensitivities/allergies to stuff...examples are aspartame, psuedoephidrine, sunflower pollen, etc. Thus my feeling that there is some substance in the occasional bowl of pho that sets me off.

                        (i hope that didn't sound defensive, i really am interested in your furthur thoughts on the matter)

                        1. re: danna

                          I was referencing the three different people not your three episodes. Chances are they are all caused by different things.

                          It could be any number of reasons, if it's just Pho and just from certain places it's probably food related rather than a medical condition. But sensible to try and be certain - even the fittest of people drop dead as a result of an underlying hidden medical condition.

                          I am able to eat apple crumble. But once a chef through in some left over walnuts to make the crust more interesting - I am highly allergic to nuts so it was interesting. So hopefully random Pho issues are just an odd ingredient tossed in by a chef once in a while. If it was a common ingredient like MSG then it would be more frequent.

                  2. Hello Danna
                    Same thing is happening to me right now.
                    I also love Pho, but the first time it happened to me (at this one restaurant only) I thought I was imagining it or it was the wine. Tonight I had the same Pho (no wine!) and I am having the same weird sensation of increased pressure in my head. My pulse is fine and I am a healthy athletic person, so attributing this to other medical issues, as some other posts suggested, do not add any validity as to why this is happening.
                    I am really concerned but yet know it will subside, as it did the last time.
                    If you find anything more out....let me know!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: lorilsiegal

                      Hi Lori -

                      I'm glad this is your second experience. The first one is pretty scary, huh?!?

                      I have still not been able to figure it out. I still eat pho occasionally, but not at either of the two restaurants this happened in. There's one Vietnamese place left in town that I'm still eating at. I'm interested in the comment above about herbs...the 2nd place I experienced this at grows their own herbs in buckets behind the restaurant...which I think is awesome, but I wonder if that means they have more varied selection than some?

                      Anyhow, same goes for you, if you figure this out, PLEASE post back on this thread.

                      1. re: danna

                        These same symptoms just happened to me!

                        At first I just thought it was my nose clearing out from all the spice / moisture from the broth, but then it got really painful in my cheekbones, like they were full of fluid. I massaged them a little and then felt a tightness in my neck.

                        This may be a crazy theory, but as someone with a very serious nut allergy, (it is nothing like this experience- nuts are much scarier with my entire body / tounge swelling and itching), I think maybe it's more of a sinus thing. Maybe all the herbs / spice inflame the sinus and cause pressure. So if you have been having allergies and then eat this food, it's kind of a chain reaction?

                        I don't think it's just the heat though. Like this doesn't happen when I eat salsa. I think the addition of warm broth and steam also open up your sinuses and make them more vulnerable to the spice.

                        Anyways, just a theory! My grandma always claimed to be allergic to MSG, maybe I "inherited" her symptoms ;)

                    2. I get this exact same thing with Pho, and only pho, and it happens every time I eat it - just had it today for lunch, and within 15 minutes felt hot and "prickly" about the head and shoulders. It lasts for about an hour then goes away. It also always has an almost immediate GI effect on me. None of these things keep me away from it, however!

                      I do also get panic attacks, as one of the other posters said. I'm also sensitive to lactose, but that doesn't seem at play here (I eat a LOT more lactose throughout the day without these symptoms).

                      And it's ONLY Pho that does this, no other foods or soups, Asian or other.

                      Weird, but glad to know I'm not the only one.