ER Safety: Emergency Medical Treatment With a Corn Allergy

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Updated 2/21/2017

Emergency Medical Instructions – For Mobile

Emergency Medical Instructions – Letter size (designed for front and back)

Corn products are in many  medical supplies. In particular, dextrose and glycerin (both usually from corn) seem to be in a number of injected drugs, and those two have in the past caused me severe–even anaphylactic– reactions when they come in contact with a mucus membrane. The last time I allowed a glycerin-based gel to touch my lip, everywhere it touched swelled immediately, and my tongue swelled on that side of my face, all the way into my throat. It was terrifying.

Injections aren’t the only danger, either. Disinfectants, lubricants, preservatives, and disposable  paper products also contain enough corn to give me at least a small problem, if not a dangerous reaction. Even the sugar used to treat dehydration and restore electrolyte balance is corn-based.

Even those without such severe and immediate reactions can and have experienced significant discomfort as a result of corn in medical products. GI reactions, migraines, or rashes may not block off your airway, but they are definitely unpleasant and can still be dangerous.

The idea that someone could kill me while trying to save me keeps me up at night, so I’ve been asking a lot of questions trying to figure out how a medical responder can avoid killing me when trying to save me. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have a plan, and I hope it works.

  1. Wear some kind of medical alert bracelet. I have a MedicAlert brand bracelet, the largest size available, to fit as much as possible, which still isn’t enough. The text reads: TREAT WITH IV SALINE. ANAPHYLAXIS TO LACTATED RINGERS, GLUCOSE,DEXTROSE, SUCROSE, PCN.  (PCN is short for penicillin.) I have a membership so that I can use MedicAlert’s online medical history service but there are definitely other services out there that do similar, and plenty of other jewelry-only type vendors.
  2. Keep a thorough but succinct treatment plan in several places on your person. The document below is my best attempt at this. It is formatted to fit on a letter-sized sheet of paper, front and back. I also want to make small laminated cards to keep in my wallet and a version on an In Case of Emergency app on my mobile phone.
  3. Keep a more detailed medical history on your person and/or an online repository. There are also USB medical bracelets that you can buy and wear.
  4. Consider putting together a hospital bag ahead of time for inpatient stays that contain necessities.

I don’t know how well this will work, but I really hope it will at least keep me alive in a medical emergency.

And, of course, I am sharing what I have so far. The following is a publicly available Google Doc that you can copy to your own google doc and alter as you like. My doc includes notes on what you should change to customize for yourself. And of course it only covers a corn allergy, so if you have other allergies, such as penicillin, that need to be mentioned, it is only a starting point. Here it is:

Corn Allergy Emergency Medical Instructions – Letter size (designed for front and back)

Corn Allergy Emergency Medical Instructions – formatted for mobile

I’ll update here as I get more formats set up for wallet cards and mobile apps.  Different ICE apps have different features, but they all usually provide a widget so that the info can be accessed from the lock screen without unlocking the phone. This is important to me since I have all of my email and social networking accounts hooked up to my phone. While I’m not particularly concerned that an EMT would stop trying to safe me to try to hack into my stuff, I think that my phone could end up in ANYONE’s hands if I were incapacitated.

Note that the document is only meant to cover emergency room procedures- not routine medical care, nor longer term or inpatient procedures. I now have a post about longer hospital visits that is very much work-in-progress.

Dealing with Skeptics

Something that comes up often in any medical situation is skepticism that corn can be the root cause of all the reactions to various chemical derivatives. Rather than argue this in an emergency situation, the following tactics have worked in the past:

  • Claim chemical sensitivity: Say that you react to “preservatives,” “dyes,” and “additives.” People are for some reason more likely to believe that one can have a non-specific sensitivity to these things than that one can be reacting to the corn source of them.
  • Claim multiple sensitivities: For some reason people are more willing to believe that you are separately allergic to citric acid, potassium benzoate, polyethylene glycol, glycerine, and a dozen other ingredients than that you are only allergic to them when they are derived from corn.
  • Use the term “sensitivitiy” or “adverse reaction” rather than “allergy” unless you have a positive IgE test result to show. “Allergy” means something specific in the medical world, so if your adverse reactions are not proven to have IgE as a mediator, it’s only going to hurt your case to insist that you have an allergy. Adverse reactions can still be severe, so make sure that you stress that you have had severe adverse reactions to corn derivatives, preservatives, and excipients in medications.
  • Remain calm and be as logical as possible. If you seem emotional, you will not be taken seriously. I realize that the fear and the coursing adrenaline in emergent situations make this difficult. Try to breathe. If they are insisting that there is no choice other than a product or medication you fear you will react to, ask if they can try a small amount or do a skin test to make sure it’s safe. Also ask what their protocol is for severe reactions or anaphylaxis. This is both so that you understand what will be done if you react, and to remind them that anaphylaxis is a possibility.

Learn something from this post? Feel free to show your appreciation with a tip! The info on my blog is always free, so you are never obligated. But it is always appreciated.
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16 thoughts on “ER Safety: Emergency Medical Treatment With a Corn Allergy

    1. Awesome! If you have any feedback on anything I’ve overlooked or if you feel like sharing what you come up with, I’d love to read it over and maybe compare notes. In particular I’m still stuck on what to say about blood products other than the blurb of, “be prepared for a probable allergic reaction.” I keep meaning to call the American Red Cross and try to find out if there is any possible way to receive a blood transfusion safely, but since I’m still struggling to eat I just haven’t made time. If you want to compare notes, you can reach me at

      1. I’ve now printed out one of these for every member of my family. I also posted a link to this page on the forum, just in case someone missed your site. My daughter was recently rushed to the ER and I felt like I had to stand in front of her bed and guard her like a Mama Bear to keep them from making things worse. As it was, we felt lucky to get out of there with nothing more than skin reactions…..That prompted me to scour the internet for more information and then I found your blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you for getting all this information together in one place. Have you shared this with the folks over at the Delphi forum? It should be on both forums as a sticky note!

      2. Thanks, Kristy.:) I hope that you don’t have any ER incidents anytime soon or ever again, but I’m always looking for feedback, so if you run into things or think of things that are not here or could use clarification I’d love to hear it.

        I did post it on the Delphi forum once when I first posted this, but from the responses I got I think people didn’t read the link. The responses I got were mostly to give me information that was already contained in the document I was looking for feedback on. I think because they didn’t recognize me as a frequent poster there, they assumed I was a newbie to corn allergy. 🙂

      3. Oh whoops, one more thing. If you haven’t already used the google doc template to create your own personalized ER protocol, I HIGHLY recommend it.

        I have my own personalized version of the google doc that contains my specific non-corn allergies like Penicillin and Sulfa, and specifies “multiple food allergies- DO NOT FEED.” It also skips a number of the cautions against topical products because I’m not very skin sensitive and I figure hospital staff have a limit on how much info they can take it at once so I’ll skip anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

        My next thing to tackle in a post is planned procedures and extended hospital stays.

  1. Thanks for putting this together! I used your letter recently for my colonoscopy. It put everyone at attention!!

    Im going to write about my experience and add a link to your site.

    Thanks bunches!
    Ps: the prep sucked!!! Corn in all but miralax, so it takes more than 1 day prep!

  2. I have a colonoscopy in July and all prep stuff have corn. I need suggestion. I am also gluten, and dairy free.

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