The trials of living with a severe corn allergy

Coeliacs and dairy intolerants may struggle to get recognition for their condition or to identify their allergens or triggers in ready-made food, but you try being corn allergic! Below is the text of a recent correspondence between FoodsMatter and a severely corn-allergic site visitor.

 

13th June 2011

I wonder if you would be willing to use the influence that you have in high places to campaign about including corn (maize) as an allergen which must be clearly identified by law on packaging?

I am sure that I can't be the only person who is allergic to corn, and it is extremely difficult to ascertain which foods and products are safe for me, as corn is used in many different ways and has many derivatives. Glucose syrup, invert sugar syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin, xanthum gum are just a few ingredients from corn, and others are even more ambiguously listed: starch, thickener, acid, vegetable oil and natural flavouring could be – and very often are – corn ingredients too. With no clear listing, it makes it almost impossible for someone with corn allergy to eat anything that they have not prepared themselves from scratch using virgin ingredients.

You obviously have a lot of contacts through your work with allergy and intolerances, and if you raised this issue with the powers that be, hopefully it would do some good and they would take note. I sympathise with people who are allergic to wheat, barley, oat etc, but about the only grain which is not legally required to be clearly listed is corn! And because corn is used not just in its grain form but as syrups, sugars, oils, starch etc too, it seems to me that it would be very sensible to include this on the allergen list too.

Thank you in advance for any help that you can give in this matter. Rosie

 

Dear Rosie,

Being corn allergic in Europe is extremely frustrating - because it is not a common enough allergy (yet) for it to have really registered with the medics or the regulators - which is why it is not declared as such on packaging. I would love to think that we had the power to change that situation but sadly, I think you greatly over-estimate our influence.... The only thing that will seriously change matters is when enough people start to be diagnosed as allergic to corn....

However, some of us are trying! Nutritionist Micki Rose who writes for us quite often, is allergic to all grains herself and believes that many people are allergic to all gluten - not just the gluten in wheat, rye and barley. Corn is among the worst offenders as although the gluten in corn is not identical to that in wheat, it is still gluten and there is a lot of it in corn. Micki has done a great deal of work identifying hidden gluten (usually corn) in foods and in supplements and has started a new website, Truly Gluten Free on which she has put loads of information. She has also written a couple of articles for the foodsmatter site on the subject which you might find useful – No Grain, No Pain and Corn-free supplements.

Good luck! Michelle

 

15th June 2011

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for replying to me so quickly.

As you say, it is really difficult to be allergic to corn, because of the almost total lack of information on ingredients listings. Sometimes glucose syrup can be used in the manufacturing process of something (i.e. Quorn), but not as an ingredient and so is not listed but renders the product unsuitable for a corn allergy sufferer. Because the glucose syrup is not listed, a corn allergy sufferer can inadvertently eat it with dire consequences. Also maltodextrin is often present in flavourings, which are listed as the very ambiguous 'flavouring', which again a corn allergy sufferer would not know unless they have previously contacted the manufacturer directly.

It is nice to know that I am not the only one in England who is allergic to corn. I am not just allergic to corn in its grain form, but as sweetcorn and all corn derivatives such as dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose syrup etc. I had to be administered with oral and topical steroids at my hospital allergy tests because I reacted so violently to the allergen. If I eat something containing corn in any of its forms, my skin breaks out in thousands of little blisters which are filled with weeping fluid, I have extremely severe bright red and very itchy rashes all over my body, my nose swells up internally so much that I can't breath through it at all and can only breath through my mouth, my lungs contract and go very wheezy and I can't breath properly, and my face swells so badly that I look like I've been in a fire. I have a cocktail of oral and topical antihistamines, topical and oral steroids, inhalers and sprays that I have to use daily just to try to keep my symptoms at bay. If I inadvertently ingest corn, I have a really bad reaction and have to go to the hospital or doctor's surgery for injections.

You say that corn allergy is relatively rare in Europe. I understand that it is more prevalent in America, where a lot of our corn / maize is grown. Have you heard of any plans to include corn as a legally-required allergen to be listed over there? If so, perhaps at some time it will make its way over here too.

Best wishes. Rosie

 

16th June 2011

Dear Rosie,

Oh dear - you are bad... Do you not carry an Epipen? It sounds to me as though you go into anaphylactic shock when you actually actually eat corn.

Spurred on by your email I have just been doing a bit of web research about corn allergy in the US - and found a few websites that you might find helpful:
www.cornallergens.com
www.nutrition411.com

Although some site suggest that corn 'allergy' is in fact an intolerance, the official view from FAAN (the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) is:

Other Uncommon Allergies
Corn Allergy

Allergic reactions to corn are rare and a relatively small number of case reports can be found in medical literature. However, the reports do indicate that reactions to corn can be severe. Reactions to corn can occur from both raw and cooked corn. Individuals who are indeed allergic to corn may also react to corn and grass pollens. Cornstarch may also need to be avoided.

So if that is the view in the US where it is definitely more common than in Europe I fear that it will be along while before too much is done about identification here in Europe. Another factor mitigating against a more overt declaration of corn as an ingredient is that it is the main substitute grain used in standard gluten-free manufacture (coeliac disease sufferers are believed only to react to wheat, rye and barley) so there will a great reluctance to stigmatise corn as another allergen. Of course, in the fullness of time, if corn is used too widely, there will almost inevitably be an increase in the number of people who react to it – but that is probably an issue for 10 years down the line...

Best wishes – Michelle

 

16th June 2011

Dear Michelle,

I am definitely allergic, not intolerant. I had allergy tests and it is the usual immune system reaction, a full allergy not an intolerance. I was told at the hospital that it is rare. I was tested for corn by accident really; I had to bring in fresh fruit and vegetables that I suspected a reaction to and I brought in sweetcorn and my arm swelled up quite magnificently when it was pricked! They even called in a student doctor to look at me because it was such a severe reaction!

I was not given an Epipen, but told to either call 999 or go to my doctor's surgery if I have a really bad reaction that I can't control myself with my medicines. I have needed to go to my doctor several times because of a really severe allergic reaction, and each time they injected me with a high dose of chlorphenamine and something else which I can't remember. I have another appointment at the hospital with my consultant in August, so will mention an Epipen then, although he didn't offer it to me at my previous appointments.

I was also tested for various grass, tree, mould, funguses etc, all of which I reacted to, so I am allergic to both corn and grass pollens as is identified in the article in FAAN.

At that time I had no idea that corn was used so liberally and called so many different things. I thought of the obvious things such as popcorn and corn flakes, but that was all. It wasn't until I was told about glucose syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin and the rest, that I realised what a huge task it is to try to avoid corn.

I understand exactly what you mean about there being a reluctance on the part of the authorities to stigmatise corn as another allergen because it is used for wheat / gluten free products. But on the other hand, many of these 'free from' foods contain other allergens, which already makes them unsuitable for people who react to more than one allergen. Flour can be made from rice, so this could be an alternative to maize as a wheat substitute.

Many thanks for your help. Rosie

 

17th June 2011

Dear Rosie,

I am amazed that they did not offer you an Epipen to help control really severe reactions – unless they just do not see corn as a 'major' allergen which can cause just as much trouble as peanut – in which case they are woefully ignorant! I would definitely push for one as it will give you more peace of mind knowing that you will be able to deal more quickly with a bad reaction yourself before going to the doctor.

You are, of course, right about 'freefrom' foods containing a load of other potential allergens. However, I am afraid that, as ever, it comes back to economics. The number of people who have multiple allergies, in terms of the total 'freefrom' market, remains tiny – simply not large enough to make the increased costs of R&D, ingredients and manufacture of foods which exclude them all even remotely economically viable. So for those with multiple allergies, I am afraid that it is back to the allotment and the cooking stove.....

Very best wishes - Michelle

 

Ed: The On the Wings of Hope blog has an excellent post pointing out that corn is an increasingly popular material in environmentally friendly products such as fabrics, clothing and yarn.

Biodegradable, disposable crockery and cutlery can also be made from wheat or corn fibre while peanut oil and ethanol from corn can both be used as fuel in biodiesel and some corn allergics have reacted to the fumes. Casein fibres are also used in fabrics such as clothing and blankets.

They also give a link to a page on the www.avoidingmilkprotein.com blog which gives a good deal more detail about the unlikely places where such allergens can be found – as well as a history of allergy!

 

Ed: John Scott sent the following email to be forwarded to Rosie:

If I knew Rosie's contact details, I'd tell her about Helminthic Therapy (HT) because this is very effective against allergies and anaphylaxis.

Although there are quite a number of people who are using HT successfully to treat their severe allergies and prevent the possibility of anaphylactic reactions, not many of them have written accounts of their success. One of the few reports was written by the father of a boy with autism, who, several months into the the therapy, accidently ate a pecan cookie - pecans being the nuts that he is most allergic to - and, much to his parents' amazement, he had absolutely no reaction of any kind. (They didn't know, at the time, that HT prevents anaphylaxis, and were only hoping for help with the autism.) The pecan cookie incident is mentioned in the father's detailed account of his son's problem and successful treatment using HT.

There's more scientific stuff on the use of HT to treat anaphylaxis here.

Although I didn't have anaphylaxis myself, I did have a large number of IgE-mediated allergies, but these are all gone now that I'm using HT, so it would almost certainly benefit Rosie and likely transform her life, as it has done mine.

If she's interested, but can't afford the quite high cost of the treatment, she might like to know that Autoimmune Therapies have a policy of never refusing treatment to anyone who genuinely can't afford the cost!

 

See Dr Micheal Radcliffe's comments on corn allergy

 

June 2012.

We have just received the following email from Ambar deMejia who had been reading some of our material on corn allergy and these posts. She says:

There are so many people with corn allergies, more than what you might think even though it might be confused with an intolerance, nevertheless, the itching, the vomiting, the headaches are so very present.
I have copied some very helpful web pages for you to help Rosie, the lady with the corn allergy.
Even with very refined corn derived products, most of us get a reaction of some kind.

http://cornfreelifestyle.wordpress.com

You will find a corn free list here.

And a Facebook Group here.

And another great 'corn-free blog' here – www.livingitupcornfree.com

I hope this helps!!


First published in June 2011

 

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