Feb. 16th, 2011

becala: (Default)
I am gluten intolerant and have a "traditional" food allergy to corn.

When I tell people that I can't have wheat and other gluten-containing grains, and that I also can't have corn, the thing they focus on is the wheat. exclaiming that that must be OMGimpossible to avoid.

Actually, it's not that hard. Cross contamination is an issue, and I have only recently been figuring out how much of an issue it is. But still, with some reasonable hygiene practices, good planning, and small lifestyle changes, a gluten-free lifestyle is pretty manageable to me. It's not fun or easy, but it's possible to do.

Staying corn free? That is way harder than you think.

When I go to the pharmacy, it goes like this:

"Can you look at the ingredients on this medication and tell me if there is corn in it?"

"No, there's no corn in it."

"Really? What about that modified food starch?"

"That says 'food,' not corn."

"Corn is the most common 'food' for starch to come from.'"

"Well, here's an equivalent medication that doesn't list starch in it."

"But it's flavored with sucrose, which could also come from corn."
...and so on. In addition to thickeners, caking agents, flavors, and sweeteners, some people are sensitive enough to have to worry about calcium silicate and magnesium stearate, which are in like, every medication. Seriously, grab a handy bottle of any kind of pill and read the label.

I fortunately have never had a noticeable reaction to silicate/stearate or any of the more obscure additives like them. (The list of possible corn allergens has more items on it than I can possibly remember, so I just focus on the ones I've had reactions to.)

But I can't just take an aspirin or any other over the counter pill someone hands me. It has to be the right brand, one that I know I've used before without a reaction, and even then, I have to re-read the ingredients.

Once upon a time, I got a new prescription for allergy pills and they had corn starch in them. The antihistamine was blocking the allergy attack that it was causing. The allergy attack won in the end, but it was just a rash and minor asthma.

Note that I live a life where I say it was "just" an asthma attack. Just a period of being unable to breathe properly. No big deal, happens all the time.

Another weird gotcha that it took me several years and several inexplicable rashes/asthma attacks to figure out: ethanol and caramel color. No vanilla extract for me- I have to make my own from potato vodka, because the corn-based alcohol used to make vanilla extract has enough corn protein in it to give me an instant asthma attack. No sodas of any type- every cola with caramel color in it gives me an asthma attack and a mild rash.

I just went and took a look at the newest version of the Corn Free Foods and Products List. Take a look at it. There is one brand of toilet paper on it. One. Because all the other brands they have tried are dusted in corn starch, as paper products often are. I fortunately am able to use whatever toilet paper I want, and don't react to the corn starch most toilet papers are dusted with. But some people do.

I was just trying to find out about beers that aren't made with corn, since every beer I've tried so far gives me a rash. In my research, I happened upon a couple of depressing quotes from this blog post:
"As of this point in time, I do not know of any commercially available, corn free shampoo, conditioner, deodorant (with antiperspirant), or multi-vitamin. ."

"Though Corn Products International is happy to declare corn-derived 'Dextrose is used in intravenous fluids, pharmaceutical applications, vitamins, amino acids and alcohols' they do not label these items as “contains corn” and put those with a corn allergy in a position of serious health risk. Even for those with a mild allergy to corn, it can be incredibly dangerous to receive their allergen directly, intravenously!"
Wait... in IV fluid? Yes, really, in IV fluid. I need to get a medic alert bracelet. And I need it printed in a couple of languages. And even then it might not save me if the person administering the IV does not *happen* to be on the top of their game.

So yes, this allergy is pervasive, and something I have to be thinking about all day, every day. Every time I purchase, eat, or prepare food I have to read labels and examine surfaces and utensils for possible cross-contamination. On high-pollen days when my system is irritated, I can't even be in the same room with a bowl of popcorn without having a little bit of trouble breathing. I haven't yet had a noticeable reaction to topical products such as shampoos and toothpaste, but I can't be sure that I won't, ever.

I don't really want my allergies to be the focus of my life, or the topic of practically every conversation I have with people I'm meeting for the first time, but it has to be. I have to educate people as much as possible because I need their help in avoiding a reaction. I need to be constantly vigilant, because every time I eat something, take a medication, or rub something on my skin, I could be risking my life, and honestly I fail sometimes, so the more people I have that are willing help me be vigilant, the better.

I've had folks who are concerned and thoughtful save my ass before. And been grateful every single time.


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