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This blog is about corn allergy, but it’s no secret by now that I don’t “just” have a corn allergy. I also have a mast cell disorder, and that is likely the reason my corn reactions are so severe and sensitive. It is also the reason why I react to so many other things besides corn. More and more people with corn allergies are looking into mast cell disorders for themselves, so I figure it’s high time for me to discuss them here.
Mast Cell Activation Disorders (MCAD) are abnormalities of your mast cells. Mast cells are a very important part of your immune system and are involved in your body’s defense against pathogens. They protect your body from invaders by releasing inflammatory factors including histamine, such as in an allergic reaction. When you have too many mast cells, or they are malformed or dysfunctional, you can have allergic reactivity without the same immunological pathways involved in allergies. There are two types of mast cell activation disorders: Mastocytosis, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).
If you’ve ever read my posts on ER Safety, Hospital Safety, or the Hidden Corn- Medical Supplies post, you probably know that blood transfusions contain corn derivatives. I’ve known this a while and made plans for eventually having to have an emergency treatment that would require corn exposure in order to save my life. But I had always hoped it just wouldn’t happen to me. But of course it did, last July.
Over a year ago, someone commented on my post detailing the challenges of finding corn-free meat by asking why one would not become a vegetarian instead of going to all that trouble.
My diet, and the diet of many people with corn allergy, is so limited that that would be a guarantee of malnutrition. I already fight malnutrition constantly. Adding an extra limitation beyond what I am already dealing with sounds downright dangerous.
This comment was written on a blog that is literally about how challenging a corn free diet is, on an article that goes into depth on just one single aspect of how challenging it is. Either I’m not conveying the magnitude of the problem well, or the person writing didn’t bother to try to understand the problem before offering a solution.
So here’s one more attempt to explain it.
I do have a lot of challenges besides corn. But let’s pretend for a minute that my only issue was a severe, anaphylactic, airborne, and highly sensitive corn allergy. With only that:
That’s a lot already. And many of us are dealing with other intersecting health issues that limit our dietary choices or ability to prepare or afford certain foods.
This is a message I’ve gotten a few times, and I haven’t had a very complete response to it to date because I haven’t been able to solve the problem for myself. And now that I have it mostly solved, I still don’t have any clear explanation for the phenomenon or any guaranteed solutions for anyone. Just some suggestions. But here is literally everything I know about and have tried re: finding safe water to drink when you have corn allergy, chemical sensitivity, or a mast cell disorder.
I am making many claims below that need elaboration or references. I will come back and add details and links as I have time, but I thought it was important to just do a brain dump ASAP because there are people who need this info that currently don’t have safe water.
If you are allergic to corn and are reacting to your water, DO NOT DRINK Dasani or Aquafina. These are KNOWN to contain corn derivatives in the form of “added minerals” and/or the bottles are made from corn plastic.
Try buying Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring brand (owned by CG Roxane) bottled water before you try anything else. It is cheap and easily attainable in many areas at drugstores, grocery stores, dollar stores, liquidation stores, etc. There are several spring sources and not all of them work for everyone, and also there are still people who cannot tolerate this water. If that doesn’t work, begin trialing: Fiji, Starbucks Ethos brand, Voss in glass bottles, Poland Springs. Also join the Facebook Corn Allergy and Intolerance group, because you are going to need some real-time group support getting this figured out.
May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Awareness month, and this is one of the rare diseases I am diagnosed with. So I’m taking a moment to depart from the topic of corn allergy to give you some info about it.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a group of heritable connective tissue disorders. EDS causes weak or defective collagen, which can affect many systems within the body- basically anywhere you have connective tissue. There are many types of EDS, and all of them involve joint hypermobility (double-jointedness), fragile tissue, and fragile/easily-bruised skin. Some types of EDS such as Vascular Type can cause arterial or organ rupture because the connective tissue of the organs and veins are weak.
There are 15 types of EDS, which you can learn about in detail from the Ehlers-Danlos Society.
The type I have is Hypermobile Type, which is the most common type. As of 2017, there is also a related condition, Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, which is even more common than hypermobile type EDS.
Two things I would like to point out about hypermobility:
1) It is possible to be hypermobile without being flexible.
Hypermobility has to do with how well your ligaments hold your bones together, while flexibility depends on the ability of your muscles to stretch. In many people, especially older hypermobile people, you may lose flexibility due to joint damage or muscle tension as the muscles try to hold the loose joints together. Here’s a writeup from Yoga Dork that I think explains the difference well.
2) It is also possible to be hypermobile without having adverse symptoms from it.
I often feel like this just means you don’t have adverse effects “yet” but I can allow for other viewpoints.
I’ve written a bit about how to stay safe in emergency situations, but not about longer hospital stays and planned surgeries. There’s no possible way for me to cover every possibility, so the best way to stay safe in a medical context is to familiarize yourself with where corn hides in medical supplies, in food, and in medications, and familiarize yourself with the list of ingredients commonly derived from corn and if possible train a family member or loved one on these things so that they can help advocate for you.
Here are just a few suggestions for staying safe in a hospital setting. This document is very much work-in-progress, but I feel it’s important to share as much as I can think of as soon as I have time to rather than continue waiting until I have time to be complete.
If you are an adult, and you are conscious and of sound mind, you legally should always (to my knowledge) have control of your medical care (or the medical care of your dependent child). However if you are unconscious, or are deemed not to be of sound mind, someone else can (and will) make decisions regarding your care for you (or your dependent). Claiming to have adverse reactions to such commonplace ingredients such as citric acid and dextrose, or displaying fear of just about any and every medication, can seem like paranoia to physicians. It unfortunately HAS happened that those with corn allergies have been treated with psych medication instead of antihistamines, or been given medication that they had severe reactions to while they were unconscious or unable to advocate for themselves.
There is no way to guarantee that this won’t happen, but creating an advance healthcare directive, or living will, can help. Here’s more info on how to do that. What you put in that advance directive will be individual. Please do this as soon as you are able and well ahead of any planned procedures, and work with your team of medical professionals as well as your trusted corn allergy resources on the correct content.
If you are airborne reactive this is a must. If you are not usually airborne reactive, have a mask anyway, because it is likely you will be so bombarded with allergens in the hospital that you may become airborne reactive where you usually aren’t. You can find out what masks I use on my product list page.
Get the NDC # for any medication they want to use. This is found on the package insert. The paper package insert has the inactive ingredients somewhere on it, but it is hard to find in all that tiny print. Rather than scouring the inserts, look the NDC # up on DailyMed and skip to the last section, “Ingredients and Appearance.” There should be a section on inactive ingredients which you can cross reference with the corn derivatives list.
I’ve also made a google doc spreadsheet available containing some of my findings on medications. This list was using for open heart surgery for someone, so it isn’t exhaustive of every possible med you would ever want to use. It also was done basically in one night on an emergency basis, so it is really just my off-the-cuff response after eyeballing the ingredients list. However it is a better starting place than nowhere.
When negotiating safe medications, consider not discussing corn. Explain that you have a history of allergic reactions to “excipients and preservatives” in medications, and that you really need your meds to be preservative free for your safety.
This includes premade saline flushes for iv lines. I found that out the hard way when I was recently admitted to the hospital.
I recently had to have blood transfusions, and not only is there corn in blood bags, but reactions to blood transfusions are common even in those without allergy problems. This was scary, but I didn’t have a choice. I needed blood. The hospital admitted me even though transfusions are typically an outpatient procedure, and we agreed on a premedication protocol before proceeding with any transfusions.
If you need to do transfusions or any other procedure that may cause you to react, or if you need to take a medication for which you cannot find a corn free form, you just have to take medication to help prevent severe reactions, and remain under observation so that any reactions can be treated.
You will want to consult with your doctor on the right premedication protocol for you. I use a version of what The Mastocytosis Society recommends. I do have MCAS, however those who have “just” allergies and not mast cell disease can follow mast cell protocols with quite a bit of success. That protocol is:
All meds should of course be prervative free and corn free.
If you have a corn allergy, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to eat any hospital food, even if they swear they can cook you something corn-free. Most people, not even medical staff, just cannot understand what “corn free” is to the degree that we have to avoid it. If you know you are going to have be inpatient, cook yourself enough meals in advance to cover your planned stay and then some, and keep it in the freezer. If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, consider investing in a separate freezer. Even in an apartment it’s likely you can make room for at least a small freezer. You can likely create some vertical storage shelving above it to reclaim some of that space. (I originally said you can store stuff on top of it, and then found a TON of manufacturer advice not to do that because it interferes with venting!) If money is a concern, you should be able to find used freezers on craigslist, although you’ll possibly need to do some work to decontaminate it since it may have had unsafe food in it. (I realize that *any* money is still money that many of us don’t have, and I totally understand and sympathize- I’m just making my ideal-world recommendations.)
As far as what to cook ahead, that depends on your preferences and safe foods. I honestly haven’t found too many things that I eat that don’t freeze and reheat well, maybe cooked eggs (which I personally am allergic to) and some types of dairy products such as cream and un-melted cheeses may get gross. When cooking for hospital visits, probably go with things that are easy to chew and somewhat bland as if you aren’t feeling well you may not enjoy chewing or spicy items, and even consider freezing or canning (more on corn-free canning here) some plain bone or meat broth in case you’re feeling too ill to tolerate anything else. I try to keep bland soups, baby-food style meat purees, broth, and fruit purees on hand for illness or a possible hospitalization.
You will need to get permission from the hospital to bring your own food. Be polite but firm about this- it’s not optional. You will also need to arrange for a place to keep frozen food and a way to reheat it.
Create a “hospital bag” (or in my case a suitcase) that contains everything you need for a hospital stay. The exact contents will depend very much on your sensitivity and needs, but I would err on the side of over-preparing, as you may find that in a hospital context, your reactivity and sensitivity ratchets up quite a bit.
At shift changes, nurses don’t always carefully read every patients’ chart, and may mix up and forget individual patients’ needs. Hang signs anywhere there is a hazard for you to help reduce the chance of them doing something that will make you react. I have a home laminator and have pre-printed laminated signs in my bag. You can certainly use neatly hand-written signs though. But better to come up with what you need in advance than scramble while sick/injured.
I can only eat food from a few specific farmers so I have to put up what is growing when it’s growing if I want to eat in the winter. You can learn about why this is by skimming through my Hidden Corn laundry list and reading some of my corn-tamination posts on individual foods. Because of other allergies, my “lockdown season” has been from November until June. One of my farmer-mommies began planting some winter crops I could eat so my lockdown is now from about January to June. You can read exactly what I eat on my “What I Can Eat” post.
People frequently want to know what it looks like when you can’t just run out and buy food for half the year, so I took these pictures. What I have put up I will probably eat about 60-70% of this year, to myself. The large volume is mostly because I can’t eat any grains or starches due to not having safe sources. Corn is my anaphylactic and most sensitive allergy but I am also allergic to eggs, soy, and dozens of vegetables including all of the ones that grow in cold weather such as broccoli and cabbage.
PLEASE NOTE that the mason jar lids shown here are NOT safe for canning for most and may not be safe for frozen or dried storage for many. The BPA free canning lids from Ball and Kerr contain a resin that contains some corn. I personally can jar things with them but cannot have stuff that was canned (boiled in hot water for a long time) with them.
All of my preserved food is frozen or dehydrated because in addition to the Ball/Kerr canning lids containing a corny resin, I also do not seem to tolerate the Tattler canning lids. Not sure if this is a corn issue or not. I have not yet tried the Weck jars although I will eventually. More (but not enough) on corn-free canning here.
ANOTHER NOTE for people buying freezers- you want MANUAL DEFROST for any long term storage. “Frost Free” freezers are dehumidifiers which will eventually freeze dry your meat if it is not in a 100% airtight seal. My safe meat packaging is ziplocks, so those are not true hermetic seals at all. I also observe, although the internet at large contradicts me, that frost free freezers contribute to MUCH faster freezer burn in all of my food. I have meat in my manual defrost freezer from well over a year ago that is still totally fine, and it wouldn’t last nearly that long in a frost free freezer.
Clockwise from upper left:
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the excessively high prices of the brand name Epipen autoinjector. In 2007, a single brand-name autoinjector was $50, and now it’s $300. And that’s just the wholesale price to the pharmacy. I’ve seen reports of pharmacies almost doubling that price and billing patients $1200 or more for a twin-pack.
You don’t need me to tell you that this price hike is unnecessary and unethical.
The medicine inside of the injector is about $1 per dose, but it’s not really the epi you’re paying for- it’s the delivery device. That however can’t possibly cost even close to $300 per pen, which is the minimum wholesale cost to pharmacies. (The pens only come in a twin-pack and should always be carried in pairs.) Obviously if at one time the price was only $50, the pens must cost some amount less than $50 to manufacture. I can understand that manufacturing costs rise over time, but I sincerely doubt that they rose by 600 percent. This is price gouging. It is unethical profit maximization at the expense of people–CHILDREN–who NEED the medication to stay ALIVE.
Yes, it is THIS SPECIFIC medication and delivery device that we–and our allergic children and loved ones–need. This point is important enough to warrant its own post: In an emergency, an manual draw epinephrine injection kit is NOT an appropriate replacement for an autoinjector, and the syringe based auto injectors are NOT an appropriate sub for a cartridge based autoinjector!
In response to the uproar over the increased Epipen pricing, Mylan announced they would “halve” the cost Firstly, the $0 copay card never was $0 copay. It was up to $100 off a twinpack, which would only be $0 if your copy was $100 or less. Secondly, it could not be used by anyone who didn’t have insurance, or who had Medicare/Medicaid. Thirdly, it was not legal in every state. In response to the outrage, Mylan raised the value of their coupon to $300, and that STILL isn’t good enough: Assuming you were even eligible to use the card, *someone* would be paying up to $300 for your epipen. If not you, then your insurance company.
Back in February of this year, the only product comparable in ease of use to the Epipen, the Auvi-Q, was recalled due to potential dosage delivery issues. In April, it was announced that a new company would begin working on the delivery issues and try to put the Auvi Q back on the market. A few months later, Mylan hiked the price of their brand name product up by double.
Only three weeks after *that* Mylan announced release of their generic, with a wholesale cost of $300, which is the same as the Epipen brand name before the price increase. News rticles made it sound like the generic release was in response to the public outcry, but if it were reactionary and not planned, there is NO WAY they would have it ready to go only 3 weeks after the price hikes. They obviously anticipated the outcry and planned ahead how to respond.
This was obviously planned, and obviously an attempt to maintain their profit margins in the face of possible competition. As I already said, it is price-gouging, and the victims are disabled people, and disabled CHILDREN.
I’ll spare you the detailed conspiracy theories. I’m not a journalist, just an allergy and chronic illness patient who’s trying to share some information with her fellow patients. I’ll link to a few articles with lots of information. Draw your own conclusions.
Please, if have any other options, do not try to save money on an alternative to the Epipen that will put you or your loved ones’ life in danger. If you don’t have any other options and truly cannot afford an autoinjector that you *know* will deliver the correct dosage of the meds and that you can use reliably and correctly in an emergency, please ask for help affording one. If no one can help you, please, please, please tell me, tell the news station, tell everyone you can about it. I know that this doesn’t help you right now, but the more people hear about situations where people are literally risking their lives because they can’t afford life-saving medication, hopefully the more pressure Mylan will feel to correct their problems, and the more demand other companies will see for a functional and safe alternative.
Additionally, the syringe based auto injectors such as Adrenaclick are NOT an ideal sub for a cartridge based autoinjector!
A cartridge-based autoinjector is the SAFEST and most SURE way to save lives in an anaphylactic emergency, and carrying anything else could cost even more lives. As it is, fewer than half of patients in a 2015 study were able to correctly administer epiniphrine using the brand-name autoinjector.