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

 

Currently Available Low-Cost Epipen Alternatives Are NOT Safe!

 

In an emergency, an manual draw epinephrine injection kit is NOT an appropriate replacement for an autoinjector.

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.

  1. For people who are not medical professionals, draw time on a manual injection is too slow. Seconds count, and an average parent trying to inject their child takes two and a half minutes to draw up.
  2. If you have having even a moderate reaction you will be too compromised to inject yourself with a manual draw. Anyone who has ever fumbled around looking for their asthma inhaler, benadryl, or even car keys to get to those things, knows this from experience. Trying to draw up, remove air bubbles, and then *remove your pants* to inject yourself during anaphylaxis is out of the question.
  3. The syringe based auto injectors such as the adrenaclick may not deliver a sufficient dosage of epi.  The adrenaclick delivers only 25.7% of intended dose while the Epipen cartridge-based injector delivers 74.3%.
  4. Syringe based solutions, either manual or auto injection, cannot reliably be used through clothing. Thick clothing such as denim will bend the needle and must be removed or cut away, costing seconds that could be the difference between life and death.

Related posts:
MastAttack: No, using the manual syringe/vial method is NOT the same as using an epinephrine autoinjector

SciBabe: WHY YOU SHOULDN’T USE THIS METHOD TO SAVE MONEY ON THE EPIPEN

Corn Free Xyzal, Finally!

I just received an email from my compounding pharmacist out of the blue that he was able to order some Xyzal for me and that it’ll be in in two weeks! His timing couldn’t be better, as I am dealing with some pretty horrific seasonal allergies right now.

And that’s really all I had to say. I’m on something of an unofficial hiatus right now, taking a bit of a breather after a summer of intense preserving. Because I am allergic to pretty much every vegetable that grows between October and May, I had to spend June-September preserving enough food for one adult to eat for 7 months. That’s, um, a lot of food. No cheating and going to the grocery store- if it ain’t in my freezer or growing in a pot in my living room, I can’t eat it. Well, other than pears, apples, oranges, clams, and oysters. Those are the only foods I can get safe nearly year round.

But the details on that is for another post, when I’ve had a bit more time to rest and recover. Just wanted to share my victory! If you’re still trying to find corn-free non-drowsy antihistamines, just know that it IS possible!

Ask Corn Allergy Girl: Finding a Compounding Pharmacy

The Question

Hello,

I recently developed an allergy to ALL of my prescription medications. I take several of them and they are medications that I desperately need. Everytime I take them I have itching. I researched all of the ingredients and found that they all contain the same fillers & inactive ingredients. The common ingredient is magnesium stearate, but I’m not sure if it is the specific culprit. There are so many. I am having trouble finding substitutes that do not have all of the same exact fillers or any fillers for that matter! This is so frustrating! I don’t know what to do. Even OTC meds have all the same crap. I have prescriptions that need to be filled right now, but I am afraid to. My pharmacist thinks I’m crazy and we got into an argument over it. I live in a rural area where there aren’t any compounding pharmacies. Do you know of a reputable national compounding pharmacy that uses pure medication without fillers? I am going to an allergist next week. I hope she believes me & is will to try a REPUTABLE compounding pharmacy that uses pure medication without using crushed pills. Please I would appreciate any suggestions.

Thank you!
Sheri

Some Background: There’s Corn In Medications?

If you look at the inactive ingredients of just about any prescription medication, chances are you will find at *least* one item from the corn allergens list, very likely corn starch. What to do then? Sometimes you may be able to find a version of the medication that is either corn free or has little enough corn that you can tolerate it. If not, you may need to have some of your meds custom-made for you with ingredients you tolerate. There are pharmacies called compounding pharmacies that can do this for you.

My Response to the Question

I have been exactly here and it’s scary and frustrating.

First, are you on the Facebook Corn Allergy group and/or the Delphi Avoiding Corn Forums? If not, join one or both of them immediately. You need some support, and there may even be a member of one of those groups who is in your state and already has a pharmacy they are working with.

There are a couple of reputable national compounding pharmacies. College Pharmacy is one. However the “big guys” that can ship to every single state rarely use custom filler, and I find it highly likely that you will need to provide your pharmacy with a custom filler you know you tolerate. If not now, you probably will later. So rather than go for a national compounding pharmacy, it would be better if you can find someone more local to you via the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board.

If I were you, I would use that registry to find someone near you, either in your state or in a neighboring state, and ask them:

1) Do they make their custom prescriptions out of the pure drug, without fillers, and mix in their own fillers on site if fillers are needed? (Some “compounding” pharmacies get the drug already diluted with corny fillers, and this will not work for us.)
2) If fillers are required, are they able to use a filler that YOU provide, if you are unable to tolerate any of the fillers they stock?
3) If you do not tolerate the soap they use to clean the capsule machine (many use Dawn which is corny), would they be able to use a different soap for you?
4) If you do not tolerate the gloves they use to handle the meds, are they able to switch to a different type?

The answers to all of the above should be yes in order for you to do business with a pharmacy. Even when they answer all your questions correctly, be prepared that the first time you fill a script, it may not be successful, so don’t go ordering a 90-day supply to begin with.

Note that I personally do not need to have them use a custom soap on their capsule machines, however my pharmacy is willing to do so if needed and that is comforting to me. At the time of writing I have them use Karlin’s Finest Baking Soda for a filler and Letco brand gelatin capsules. They don’t use custom soap on their capsule machines but they do refrain from stuffing their bottles with cotton and I have asked them to not use packing peanuts when mailing my prescriptions.

Getting Medications Compounded on News for Corn Avoiders

My Additional Notes on Getting Medications Compounded

Corn Free Asthma Treatment

What’s corny about asthma inhalers?

The propellant in modern HFA puffer-style inhalers almost always contains ethanol from corn.

There are several steroid or combination steroid-and-topical-anti inflammatory diskus inhalers that don’t use a propellant at all, but rather contain dry powder that you use the power of your inhaled breath to pull into yoyur lungs. Some preventative diskus inhalers are: Advair Diskus, Asmanex, and Flovent Diskus.

Note that so far all diskus inhalers contain lactose, so the severely dairy allergic are out of luck here.

However steroid inhalers are only useful for preventing an asthma attack.. they won’t treat one that is already happening.

What do I do if I’m already having an attack?

Your best bet would be the Ventolin brand HFA inhaler. It contains contains albuterol sulfate, but the propellant is not corn ethanol, it’s tetrafluoroethane (HFA 134a). The Xopenex HFA inhaler also uses this propellant but contains other exipients such as oleic acid and dehydrated alcohol which is most likely from corn. Ventolin has no other ingredients. I use the Ventolin HFA and sometimes I react to it just a little, so I don’t think it’s entirely corn free, but so far the benefit has outweighed the negative outcomes. Other inhalers including the popular ProAir HFA made my throat close.

Update March 2016: I’ve just discovered that ProAir is now making a non propellant albuterol inhaler that works like the steroid inhalers mentioned above. The only ingredients are the albuterol and lactose: ProAir Respiclick

If you can’t tolerate that, your best option is to get a nebulizer, which is a device that does the propelling for you. Then you just put the powdered drug which can be compounded corn free into the chamber and get the medication delivered. (Some nebulizer powders may be corn free off-the-shelf, check inactive ingredients.) There are pocket nebulizers for carrying with you however they are still somewhat bulky.

Update on Compounding Xyzal and Zyrtec

Hi all, I’ve been quiet, busily getting the last of the summer/early fall produced preserved while I can, but I just wanted to update you with the compounded antihistamine situation.

So Xyzal and Zyrtec *can* be compounded, BUT the sourcing is turning out to be more complicated than I want it to be. My pharmacist, after telling me that he could get me Xyzal in a 25mg quantity from a reseller, emailed me yesterday to tell me that it was backordered and not available at this time, but “could be in the future.”

I DO know that it is possible to get these drugs from PCCA, the problem is getting it in reasonable quantities. If you have a pharmacist that is able to get you either Xyzal or Zyrtec in reasonable quantities and compound them into corn-free capsules for you, and they can either fill a script with custom filler and ship to Washington state, or can repackage and resell to a pharmacy in Washington state, please let me know, because I’d really like to get a corn free Xyzal or Zyrtec.