Hospital and Medical Safety With a Corn Allergy

Updated 2/21/2017

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.

Create an Advance Healthcare Directive

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.

Have a Plan for When You’re Out of Options

It will often happen that some condition will require using a product or medication you may react to. Antibiotics are a common one where there really is just no 100% corn free option since they are pretty much all grown on a corn sugar medium. If you need a medication or procedure, and you can’t find corn free options, or you don’t have time to negotiate every single detail, the absolute best thing you can do is pre-medicate. Work with your doctor to come up with what should be done to prevent severe reactions or anaphylaxis in these cases, and put that in your advance directive. For me, that would be iv  benadryl ( diphenhydramine hcl, hospira brand is safest for me), iv zantac (ranitidine hcl – this is a histamine-2 inhibitor and increases the effectiveness of the benadryl, I don’t have a preferred brand identified), and solu-medrol (methylpredisolone sodium succinate powder for injection- mixed in water only, no ethanol).

Wear A Mask

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.

Cook Ahead

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 freer 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.

Pack Ahead

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.

Here is what is in my hospital bag:

  • 3x Twin Sheet Sets (I will react to the laundry detergents used by the hospital so need to bring my own clean bedding)
  • 3x spare twin fitted sheets (You may sweat, bleed, or otherwise soil the sheets in a hospital context, so bring spares!)
  • 2x Vog n99 Carbon Filter mask
  • 2x Extra mask filters (I use I Can Breathe  removable filters inside my vog mask to “double up” and help protect from airborne reactions better.)
  • 4x hospital gowns (washed in my safe detergent)
  • 4x hospital socks (“hospital socks” refers to the kind with the treads on the bottom so you can’t slip)
  • 2x allergen pillow cover
  • 2x blanket
  • 3x panties (probably I could stand to have more, who knows how long I’ll be in there)
  • 6x cloth menstrual pad
  • 3x cotton lined waterproof mattress pads (mostly for sweat, I hope, but who knows!)
  • Towels, washcloths
  • body soap/dish soap
  • baking soda (For brushing teeth, washing hands, cleaning “whatever” – I use Karlin’s Finest)
  • shea butter (dry skin or lips, NOW brand is safe for me)
  • jojoba oil (dry skin or lips, NOW brand is safe for me)
  • hand soap in pump bottle (this is largely for setting in the room for nurses and visitors to use instead of the corny stuff)
  • phone charger (with a nice long cord so you can use it from bed while still plugged in)
  • coban tape
  • t-shirt sleeve for under pressure cuff (many react to the sanitizers used on the cuffs between patients)
  • Safe plate, bowl, spoon
  • HEPA filter (run in your room constantly and request the door be kept closed)
  • plastic tub to use as a dish washbasin
  • Safe water filter or safe bottled water (many corn allergics react to tap water or certain brands of bottled water such as Dasani)
  • safe sippy cup  with straw (if you’re sick you’ll spill- heck, I spill when not sick. I use a mason jar with a silicone koozie, a plastic sippy lid, and silicone straws)

Laminated Signs

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.

  • No HAND sanitizer sign for front door
  • Keep Door Closed sign for door
  • Mop Floors with Water Only sign (consider getting translated into some commonly spoken local languages in case the cleaning staff do not read english well)
  • small do not use signs for hand soap & sanitizer
  • NO DEXTROSE NO GLUCOSE NO CITRIC ACID NO LACTIC ACID sign for iv pole

 

More Resources/Links

ER Safety with a Corn Allergy

ER Protocol for Mobile Devices

List of Commonly Corn Derived Ingredients (Corn Allergens List)

Hidden Corn – Medical Supplies

Hidden Corn – Food