ER Safety: Emergency Medical Treatment With a Corn Allergy

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.

Corn Allergy Safety At the Dentist

I just got back from my first corn-free dental cleaning, and no reactions! My last dental cleaning was a bit over 6 months ago, and two weeks after that visit, I had a Tom’s of Maine toothpaste that contained corn-derived sorbitol send me to the hospital. As you can imagine, I pushed back my upcoming appointments for fillings so that I could figure out how to get them without landing in the hospital. Fortunately the office manager at my Seattle-area dentist is just a wonderful human being, and was able to help me navigate this successfully. Our process was convoluted, but we eventually got to the right place for my specific needs. However, if I had to do this all over again, this is what I would have her do:

  1.  Get a list of all products that could be used during a dental cleaning, filling, or root canal. This includes gloves, cotton or gauze, paper bibs, and other “incidental” products, as well as products that are also directly used in your mouth, on your lips, or injected.
  2.  Get the package insert/MSDS for each. Make photocopies and just hand me the sheaf of them to go over.
  3.  Study up each of the products on my own, using google/the Corn Allergens list, and questions to the Facebook Corn Allergy and Intolerance group or the Delphi Avoiding Corn Forums to determine what should be safe.
  4.  Return with a list of approved items to use. And a gift to show my appreciation.
  5. Show up on the day of my appointment with an instruction sheet to remind them of what should and shouldn’t be used, and what to do if a reaction occurs.

Following is a list of the possible places to check for corn at the dentist. This list is written with the most sensitive in mind, including those who react to water treatment chemicals, so not all may apply to you:

  • The “bib” put around your neck could be dusted in corn starch. Bring your own cloth towel.
  • Water for rinsing or swishing. Water could be filtered through a corny filter or include corny softener salts. Additionally an additive is sometimes used to help plaque rinse away better, which could be corny. Bring your own safe water and rinse and swish with that.
  • Sonic cleaning devices which spray continuous water. Find out where the water comes from and if you are in doubt, ask for the “old school” polish and scraping tools to be used.
  • Chapstick or vaseline on  used during a procedure to keep lips from cracking. Bring your own safe.
  • Mouthwash. Skip or bring your own.
  • Dentifrice/tooth polish. Skip or bring your own. I use bentonite clay from living clay co for tooth polish.
  • Sanitizer used on tools will be corn derived. Wash and rinse them in safe soap and water. This includes the cup that holds the dentifrice during a cleaning- I kept having a mild reaction until we realized that and rinsed the prophy cup.
  • Floss- the wax can be corny. Bring your own.
  • Cups/containers for water and other supplies, including the cup that tooth polish is kept in. Bring your own containers or ask that the containers they use be rinsed first.
  • Gloves- can be dusted with corn starch. Make sure they use unpowdered.
  • Numbing injections- inactive ingredients can contain corn, usually dextrose. Check inactive ingredients.
  • Filling adhesive.
  • Dissolvable sutures are corny. Use the non-dissolvable and have them rinsed before use.
  • Xrays: Film or covering over the receiver if digital. If you tolerate any plastic bags such as ziploc brand, bring those along to cover anything being placed inside your mouth if possible.
  • Intravenous solution: Lactated ringers and dextrse are corny. Request saline only.
  • Topical numbing agents: Skip them entirely, they are pretty much all corny.

Numbing Injections

Carbocaine is the “standard” that most corn allergy folks have used, but there are other possibly safe injections. Septocaine and Zorcaine have been used by many but may cause issues for those with sulfa allergies. Preservative free lidocaine, both with and without epinephrine, has been used safely as well. In all cases, check the package insert and compare the ingredients against the corn allergens list before using.


Here are my instructions for a dental cleaning. You will need to personalize to yourself, especially the second half, but it’s a good place to start. 

Here is the last instruction sheet I used for a filling.

Things that could be problematic but are notably NOT covered in my instructions: airborne contact with perfumes, fabric softeners, etc, and the bite contact sheet they use after a filling to see if your teeth are coming together right. I did not check the MSDS on that sheet, just let them use it.