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Corn Allergy Treatment: Foods and Corn-Derived Ingredients to Avoid

A corn allergy is a rare type of allergic reaction triggered by the protein found in corn and numerous corn products. An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system mistakes an ingested corn protein for a dangerous foreign substance and activates the release of antibodies that in turn trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals called histamines. As a result, common allergy symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, swelling, skin rash or headache usually appear within minutes, though it is possible for an allergic reaction to occur several hours later. This allergic reaction can also cause an asthma attack in patients with asthma. In most serious cases, a corn allergy may lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock, which involves difficulty breathing and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Corn proteins are found in a wide variety of foods, which can make this a difficult allergy to manage. Just a small quantity of corn protein in the food can trigger allergy symptoms. Sensitivity to corn varies from person to person. Some people with corn allergy, for example, are able to tolerate cooked corn. This is because cooking foods can alter certain food proteins. Some patients do not seem to be sensitive to the altered proteins.

However, some individuals who experience symptoms after eating corn are actually suffering from food intolerance rather than a food allergy. Food intolerance is the inability of the body to digest certain substance, leading to symptoms of discomfort like bloating or stomach cramping but usually does not pose a serious health risk. Symptoms of corn intolerance do not involve the immune system and are generally milder than those associated with a corn allergy.

Causes and Risk Factors for Corn Allergy

In many cases, susceptibility to corn allergies appears to be genetic. Therefore, people with a personal or family history of any type of allergy are more likely to develop a corn allergy. An allergic reaction occurs after consuming corn or foods that contain corn protein. However, some patients with corn allergy can tolerate certain types of corn-based food products. Only corn proteins are problematic. Since proteins are extracted from corn oils, corn oils do not generally cause an allergic reaction in patients with corn allergies. The list of foods that often contain corn proteins is enormous. Almost anything that is sweet may contain high-fructose corn syrup. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • Alcoholic beverages (e.g., blended scotch, bourbon, some beers)
  • Applesauce and other canned fruit
  • Baby formulas
  • Baked goods
  • Candies for bad breath and breath spray
  • Chinese food
  • Condiments (e.g., mustard, mayonnaise)
  • Cream
  • Dairy products (e.g., sour cream, cheese)
  • Envelope and stamp adhesive
  • Fresh orange juice (not frozen or bottled)
  • Frozen fruits (e.g., blueberries, cranberries)
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Iodized salt
  • Margarine
  • Medications in liquid and pill form
  • Meat products (e.g., sausage, hot dogs)
  • Packaged cereals
  • Peanut butter
  • Pickles
  • Potato chips
  • Salad dressings
  • Spaghetti sauces
  • Sweetened soft drinks
  • Teas
  • Tomato products
  • Wax-coated fruits and vegetables

Patients with corn allergies should learn the names of the many types of corn derivatives that can be found on the ingredients label of food packages, even if corn itself is not listed. Some of the most common corn-derived ingredients are:

  • Acetic acid
  • Baking powder
  • Caramel
  • Dextrates
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Food starch
  • Fructose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Sorbitol
  • Starch
  • Vegetable gum
  • Vegetable protein
  • Vegetable starch

Diagnosing Corn Allergy

Since corn protein is present in so many different foods, most people will find it difficult to identify a corn allergy on their own. Doctors, too, may not immediately pinpoint corn as the culprit because the condition is so rare. In addition, the symptoms of a corn allergy usually mimic those of various other allergies. Procedures most commonly used to identify the specific allergen, such as corn protein, have been described in this post.

Treatment and Prevention of Corn Allergy

Allergic reactions to corn can only be prevented by eliminating corn and foods that contain corn proteins from the diet. However, considering the large number of foods with corn proteins, this can be a difficult task. The benefit of successfully excluding corn products from the diet is the complete elimination of corn allergy symptoms. It is not necessary to exclude corn oil, though. Corn oil (maize oil) does not contain corn proteins and is generally safe.

Patients are advised to make notes about everything they eat and any symptom. Food diaries can help identify unsuspected products that might contain corn responsible for triggering an allergy. Individuals with corn allergies should avoid fast food because corn and corn-derivatives are common ingredients in fast food (from corn starch in breads and sausages to high-fructose corn syrup in coke, condiments or desserts). Patients should also inform all their doctors about their condition so that they do not write them a prescription for medications containing corn proteins. In addition, people with severe corn allergy and those with a history of anaphylaxis must carry an epinephrine shot.