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How to Survive the Flu When You're Allergic to Corn

I've spent the last few years learning everything the doctors couldn't tell me about food intolerances, allergies, and celiac disease.


Corn and Medicine

You're sick. You've tried every homemade remedy you could think of, as well as a few recommendations from friends. There's no help for it. You need medication to function normally. However, you've already emptied the medicine cabinet... and everything in it contains corn derivatives. The trouble is, you're allergic to corn.

At the store, you sniffle and sneeze your way down the cold remedies aisle. You squint your watery eyes and try to read the fine print. You tell yourself there has to be an easier way.

Unfortunately, there really isn't. But that doesn't mean that you should give up, go back to bed, and hope for the best. Most over the counter medication is mainly for symptom relief, but a corn allergy doesn't mean you need to suffer. And many medications aren't just for symptomatic relief. Some, like antihistamines, treat the actual cause of symptoms, and they are imperative for overall health and a quick recovery (not to mention avoiding complications, like a sinus infection).

Ideally, before getting sick you'll have done some research and found some safe options to use. Ideally, these safe options will already be in your cupboard at the first sneeze. But life isn't always ideal. And if you are dealing with a corn allergy, chances are you're so overwhelmed with the prospect of finding safe food that you haven't found a spare moment to spend planning ahead for illness.

So, what can you do if you have a corn allergy and get sick? First off, make sure you have your trusty list of potential corn derivatives. Although you probably already know most of them by heart and don't trust anything that doesn't list ingredients, you'll want a hardcopy to share with a friendly pharmacist or friend who offers to help you in your search.

Helpful Tip: Keep a binder with several tabs labeled for your research. You'll want multiple copies of your list of corn derivatives—one to keep and one to share. As you track down safe medication, and rule out unsafe medication, you can keep notes for future reference in here, too.)

Be Prepared: Choose an Advocate

As the Scouts motto says, "Be prepared!" Before you get sick or go into a hospital setting, educate someone close to you on how to keep you safe. Teach them to read labels, and which questions to ask.

If you find yourself too sick to deal with research, you'll have someone you trust to help take over. If you have to go to the hospital, you'll need someone to chase away the kind nurses bringing you corn-sweetened ginger ale and a few corn-enriched crackers to "help" settle upset stomachs.

Food allergies are often dismissed if you aren't in the middle of an anaphylactic reaction. But with a corn allergy, the risk of exposure is always present, it seems. So be vigilant, and be prepared. It's better than getting sick (or more sick than you originally were)


The first thing you need to do is identify the specific type of medication you need. Are you in the market for a painkiller? An antihistamine? Something to settle your stomach? Sometimes, life experience has taught us exactly which over the counter remedy to reach for. New symptoms require the advice of a medical practitioner.

If possible, figure out the name of the active ingredient you're looking for. In pain killers, your options are acetaminophen, ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) or naproxen. Figure out your preferred active ingredient (maybe by checking whatever brand name you would have used before being diagnosed with a corn allergy) and then go from there.

Once you have an active ingredient, turn to your, not pharmacist. Computer. You'll want at least two tabs open on your web browser, and a spiral notebook to record your findings. It's a lot like school, but the results impact you a lot more than letter grades ever did.

You're going to look up the main ingredient on a website dedicated to giving information on available medications. and are great resources. Record the brand names of medications that are appropriate for your needs. Yes, this a tedious process. But, your health is worth it. If you're sniffling, sneezing, and too watery in the eyes to deal with this, enlist the help of a trusted friend. It's important to actually acertain the safety of any medication you take. After all, if you're sick, and then you take medication containing allergens, you won't know if your new symptoms are normal allergy related ones or if they are a symptom that your illness is progressing and needs different treatment.

After you develop a list of potential brand names to choose from, you need to research the inactive ingredients. It's okay to start this process on or, but the best site for current information is going to be the manufacturer's website itself. This is why it's handy to open two tabs in your browser, one for the drug reference website and the other to look up manufaturer's websites. If the ingredients aren't listed, the brand name website will have contact information, and you can call their 800 line to talk to a customer service representative. (We'll get to that in a minute.)

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Cross off the ones that won't work for you. If you stumble across something promising, or can't find ingredients, it's time to call the manufacturer. This is a daunting process. Most customer service agents don't know off-hand what a corn allergy is. Identify yourself as a consumer with an allergy to all corn derivatives, and explain that your doctor has recommended you even avoid derivatives like microcrystalline cellulose and dextrose (or substitute whichever corn derived ingredients are most problematic for you). Explain that you are sick, and need to find a safe medication. Ask them then to verify the sources of questionable ingredients.

Be prepared to be disappointed. Most medications do contain corn derivatives in their inactive ingredients. But there are a few formulations that don't. If you find one that is safe for you and the name isn't glaringly familiar, you might also ask if they know where you can find it locally. Not all customer service agents are familiar with this information, but it's worth asking. If they don't know, you can pick that phone up again and start calling pharmacies. Just don't let them talk you into a different formulation that is "practically the same thing." As you now know, when it comes to corn allergy... all generics are not alike.

What if There Isn't a Safe Medication?

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just can't find a corn-free variation of a common over the counter product. The temptation to curl up and cry is strong, and you have every right to give in to it. But only for a few minutes. You need to be healthy. You need to persevere. (Yes, I know. I don't want to either, some days. But it must be done. So have your cry. Dry your eyes. Now, move forward to step 2.)

After you have given up on the search for a corn-free option, it's time to find a compounding pharmacist. Hopefully you will have already researched one. If not, use the yellow pages or Google your hometown or state and the term "compounding pharmacy."

Give them a call. Explain the situation. Find out if they are able to help you, and if they can't, keep calling until you find a pharmacy that can. If you don't have a local compounding pharmacy, there are some that are willing to compound and mail your medicine to you. Once you feel comfortable that they understand your personal needs and are able to help, you will need to talk to your doctor and get a prescription. (Yes, you need a prescription for regular strength pain killers, cough syrup, and any other pharmaceutical you never thought twice about stocking up on before diagnosis. It doesn't seem right, and the reasons are long and complicated. The bottom line is that you might as well comply, it's easier than arguing.) The pharmacy will talk you through the specific wording of the prescription, or your doctor can work with them directly.

Safe Vegetable Broth

You can make a quick and easy vegetable broth, too. Just quarter 4-5 small onions, peel some carrots, and add a rib or two of celery. You can throw in a parsnip and some garlic, as well. Garlic has known antiviral and antiseptic properties, so it might help you recover faster. Simmer them all for 4-6 hours. Or stick them in a slow cooker overnight. Salt and pepper to taste.

Look for vegetables that have only been rinsed in pure water, not a vegetable cleaner. If there is still dirt clinging to the roots, they're more likely to be free of corn-derivative cleaning residue.

Forget Medicine, What About Food?

Ah, yes. Sick food. Wiggly gelatin dishes. Chicken soup. Hot tea. Lots of potential for corn derivatives.

There aren't many canned soup options, although if you look hard you might find some. The easiest thing to do if you want chicken soup is to get some veggies and a leftover chicken carcass from your roast chicken dinner (what? You don't have one? Well, then the chicken thighs or breasts sitting in your freezer will work too. Bones make a richer, more complex broth. But just meat will create a protein rich, flavorful broth that's satisfying.) Easy to add veggies are 3-4 onions, peeled and quartered, and 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks. If you have some celery in your crisper, a few stalks go nicely. Garlic is a wonderful addition as well...just peel a couple cloves and toss them in. If you have a crockpot, all the better. Throw everything in, fill it with water and go to bed. You're not looking for gourmet soup when you're sick. Just soup.

If you happen to have leftover rice, it's a nice bland easy-to-digest food. If not, it's not hard to make or ask a friend to make up a nice big pot for you. You can eat it as is, add safe butter, or toss a few spoonfuls into your broth for chicken rice soup. (How gourmet you get depends on how sick you are.)

For wiggly, jiggly gelatin desserts you'll need to go the old fashioned route. A package of old fashioned unflavored gelatin will keep for quite awhile in the cupboard and is corn free. Make up a batch of juice blocks, following the recipe on the back of the package. If you want it more jello-esque, halve the amount of gelatin per liquid. If your juice is too sweet or overpowering for your craving, use half juice and half water.

For a slushy sore throat soother, whiz some homemade ice with safe juice. If you want a smoothie, use frozen banana and either juice or a safe milk.

And Other Sundries...

When you're sick, you're more likely to let your guard slip and become more vulnerable to corn slip ups. That's why it's important to make your home, or at least parts of your home, a corn-free safe haven.

  • Disinfectants: A lot of corn-allergic individuals react poorly to commercial disinfectants, but you still need to kill germs. Luckily there are at least two natural disinfectants that are corn free. Apple Cider vinegar and certain kinds of vodka. No, you don't drink them. Dilute with water and keep them in a spray bottle. If you need foamy cleaning action, sprinkle baking soda and then use the vinegar.
  • Tissues: People use a lot of tissues when they get a cold. But many brands use the extra-absorbent power of corn starch. And when sneezing and blowing your nose into a tissue, there's a good chance some of that powder will get inhaled and/or ingested. Find some safe, uncorny tissue brands (I use Scott's) before getting sick. Or stock up on handkerchiefs.
  • Medical Procedures: The facts are that when you're sick, sometimes you need more than chicken soup and a decongestant to feel better. And sometimes it's not just a cold. Or even cold symptoms. But, it turns out that not all medical personnel are well versed in the intricate world of corn allergies and intolerance. So if you need medical help, or a few tests to pin down which part of you needs extra care, you need to stay vigilant. You need an ingredient list on anything ingested (even contrast solutions for CT scans). You should also be aware that some IV solutions contain dextrose. While it bypasses the digestive tract and might be okay for some people who are allergic to corn derivatives, anyone with a contact allergy will not do well with dextrose pumped directly into their veins. It's also wise to let your doctor know that the dextrose might be a problem beforehand, just so they know what to focus on if you happen to have a bad reaction (or if they want to avoid the risk altogether by choosing a pure saline).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


msviolets (author) on January 03, 2012:

Thanks for reading! There is a ton of information to absorb with a corn allergy. After several years, I'm just starting to feel like I'm finally getting a real handle on it. I hope that my learning curve helps ease the transition for others!

Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on January 03, 2012:

This is one of those wow pieces that provides a lot of information to absorb, especially if the reader has a corn allergy. And there are so many products that contain a derivative of corn. Thumbs up on this one. Well organized with information and suggestions and ideas. Thank you.

Phoebe Pike on January 03, 2012:

This is an incredible hub! You are a remarkable writer!

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