Corn allergies aren’t that common, but when triggered, their symptoms and consequences can be as severe as with every other form of allergy known to man. It’s tricky to diagnose and there is a surprising number of products made with corn or corn derivatives. Since it’s not regulated by label laws, finding corn among ingredients of store-bought product isn’t an easy task.
What causes corn allergy?
- Environmental factors
- Products containing corn
There is little incidence information available on corn allergy. According to a study conducted in Pakistan, less than one percent of the total population worldwide suffers from a corn allergy.
The exact causes of corn allergies aren’t well-known, as they are with other types of food allergies. It is believed to be caused by a series of epigenetic and environmental factors. However, studies so far have shown that the allergen that triggers the symptoms is zein, a protein that’s found in corn. When this protein gets in the body, the immune system triggers a violent response, by releasing a series of chemicals to help fight off the danger.
What are some corn allergy symptoms?
- Digestive problems
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing and breathing
- Swelling of tongue, lips, etc
When a severe reaction is noted, that’s when a person experiences anaphylaxis, which is very dangerous and can potentially lead to death, if left untreated. The best and fastest way to react to anaphylaxis is with epinephrine injection. The symptoms of anaphylaxis are swollen air passages and throat (which, in turn, cause difficulty in breathing and swallowing), shock, an irregular pulse, and eventually loss of consciousness.
How is corn allergy diagnosed?
- Allergy testing
- Blood tests
- Process of elimination
As with most food allergies, testing is a great part of the diagnosis. If you suspect even the mildest form of corn allergy, it’s best to consult with a specialist in order to determine if this allergen is really a threat to your health. But since it’s so tricky to identify its cause, corn allergy is also complicated to diagnose.
A doctor may perform an allergy test, although false positives in blood and skin tests are a common occurrence. Examining the history of a patient could provide an allergy specialist with more useful information in identifying whether that person suffers from a corn allergy or not. Even in this situation, things can be difficult, as it’s troublesome to pinpoint the exact products that contain corn. Furthermore, the symptoms of a corn allergy are often mistaken with those of a flu virus or could be mistaken as an allergy to something else.
In order to best determine a food allergy such as that caused by corn, keeping a food diary can be of great help. Food diaries are detailed records of a person’s eating schedule, with details on the specific food consumed, as well as any symptoms that may have occurred after.
In some cases, doctors turn to the elimination diet. The foods that are suspected to have caused the allergy symptoms are removed from a person’s diet, one by one, and then added back to test the body’s reaction. However, this is a process that generally takes time (on average, about two weeks). Another mean of diagnosis could be exposing the body to the allergen in a controlled medium, in the presence of a specialist. This way, if the body does have an allergic reaction, all safety measures can be taken immediately.
Can corn allergy be treated?
Back in 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act grouped the major allergens into categories and imposed regulation stating that these ingredients, as well as similar proteins, must be specified on a product’s label. It’s important to know that there are also a lot of non-edible products that may contain corn-based ingredients: from vitamins to cosmetics, crayons, detergents, toothpaste, and even pet food.
In some cases, doctors can prescribe medication such as Benadryl, which is an antihistamine that can be taken in case mild allergy symptoms appear. For emergencies, always carry an EpiPen.
The best way to steer clear from complication is to carefully read all labels and avoid consuming any corn-based products. You can find medical alert bracelets in the drug stores. Wearing such a bracelet is a good way of warning other people that you have a food allergy. If you have a child with a corn allergy, alert their daycare or school about the condition. To make sure you avoid risks of consuming any corn or corn derivatives, buy fresh foods instead of pre-packaged or frozen ones.
When eating out, always consult with the restaurant’s staff to make sure you’re well-informed of all the ingredients of the dish you’re interested in consuming. When cooking at home, make sure you start your meals from scratch, so you’ll always know exactly what you’re eating.