So you’re allergic to corn.
First: Are you SURE you are allergic to corn? People often forge ahead with this as an assumption and in some cases, it might be best to question it, at least for a minute. As you will realize as you read the rest of this post, avoiding corn is not as simple as cutting a few foods from your diet. Corn is not only a food, it is a food additive, preservative, disinfectant, lubricant, emulsifier, anti-caking agent, and more. Not everyone has to avoid everything derived from corn, but for some reason more people have to avoid more derivatives than you’d ever expect.
If you’ve had an adverse reaction to a food, you should definitely avoid that food in the future. But if the food had many ingredients besides corn, it might be worth taking some time to think critically about whether the corn in the food was the problem or something else.
So before you start turning your life upside down: What gave you your diagnosis? Was it a scratch test? Those have false positives. Was it a blood test? Those don’t usually have false positives, but it could happen. Did you do a food challenge? What was the food you challenged? Any chance it was a possible allergen contaminant in the food other than corn?
Okay, so you’re SURE it’s corn that you’re allergic to. Now what?
The steps for dealing with a corn allergy are about the same no matter how severe your reactions are. But if you are having severe reactions, you need to follow sort of an accelerated schedule and get yourself out of crisis ASAP.
Symptoms of severe reactions include:
- tight, hoarse, trouble breathing/
- shortness of breath, wheezing, repetitive
- Significant swelling of the tongue, lips
- becoming pale, blue, faint, having a weak pulse, being dizzy
- rash/hives over more than 25% of the body
- widespread redness/flushing
- loss of consciousness (including feelings of excessive sleepiness that you just can’t fight- getting to lay down before you pass out still counts as passing out!)
- loss of motor coordination
- extreme swelling of the eyes, lips, or anywhere else in the body
- prolonged and or painful diarrhea/intestinal cramping
- prolonged vomiting
- Feeling something bad is about to
happen, anxiety, confusion
Read more about the signs of anaphylaxis here on the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. In particular, please take a look at, and carry with you, this simple handout on how to recognize and treat anaphylaxis. Here is another overview of the effects of anaphylaxis on the body. If you are having these kinds of reactions, you need to make drastic changes right NOW, get as corn free as possible to begin. Then maybe you can see how much you can tolerate adding in from the “corn lite” options. People with less severe reactions can sort of take their time instead of diving in head first.
Who This Guide Is For
This guide is written for people who are reacting a lot or reacting severely, because that’s the situation I came from, but I think it can contain good advice for others.
Even if you aren’t currently in crisis, I don’t suggest that you start out by assuming that you aren’t very sensitive and don’t need to make many changes. Rather, I strongly suggest you aim for going completely corn free within 6 months, and *then* see how well you do with derivatives and traces. The reason I suggest this is that there are a number of symptoms people wouldn’t typically associate with an allergy or intolerance such as joint pain, mild GI distress, acid reflux, “random” mild rashes or itching, eye pain, fatigue, bouts of sleepiness, blood sugar highs and lows, and eczema, that can disappear with the elimination of corn, but that you wouldn’t realize are a reaction until you eliminate the offending food for a while and then reintroduce. All of these symptoms are indications of inflammation that are doing long term damage to your body, so it is in your best interest to eliminate those sources of inflammation so that you can heal.
Learn the Basics
The following article is a really good overview on the spectrum of allergies and sensitivities. Please read it right away to give yourself a good grounding in the basics before beginning your corn free journey: Inflammation – Allergies and Sensitivities on WomenToWomen.
Find a community of people who have already done this. I suggest the Corn Allergy and Intolerance group on Facebook because it saved my life literally in 2012, but it’s also grown quite a lot since I joined, and more members means more posts from other new people. I strongly believe that communicating with other patients can help you learn more about your own situation- there is no way I would have made the progress I have with either my food sensitivities or my other conditions without learning from others what did and didn’t work for them. But keep in mind: no matter where you get support, that there is no shortcut for studying, learning, and using your best judgement. If someone tells you that something is corn free, and it sounds to good to be true, probably err on the side of caution.
- Figure out how to safely treat reactions.
- If you have the kind of severe reactions listed above, get a prescription for an EpiPen. If you have reactions that aren’t necessarily severe but are definitely a “true allergy” meaning hives, rashes, asthma, and other IgE symptoms, you may want to consider getting an EpiPen just in case. A bit more on “true allergies” vs intolerances. If your usual doctor won’t give you one, try the walk-in clinic. If they won’t give you one, skip directly to the “Get Your Doctor On Board” step and find someone who will write you a prescription. Learn when to use your epipen. The EpiPen 2-pak comes with a “training” pen and instructions on how to use. Read up on it before you need them and train at least one family member on how to use it as well.
- Read this emergency medicine info. Bookmark the mobile site and use the information to prepare your own ER docs.
- Don’t assume that if you do not have a true “allergy”, you cannot have a severe or life threatening situation as a result of your corn sensitivity: there have been some rare incidences of IgG, the immunoglobulin that causes “food intolerances”, causing anaphylaxis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21029722/
- It is possible for food to do lasting or even immediately life-threatening harm without allergies being involved. The following are not corn, but illustrate some ways that food can harm you other than allergy:
- Sulfite sensitivity is not mediated by IgE but can be deadly.
- Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to food and can do lifelong irreparable damage to your body.
- G6PD deficiency causes red blood cells to be destroyed in the presence of certain food or meds. This can be deadly and in some extreme cases people have died from airborne exposure to a trigger before they could be given blood transfusions.