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The "How Do I Know It's a Corn Allergy" Guide to Uncovering a Corn Allergy

Updated on September 20, 2019
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MsViolets has been navigating a corn intolerance for almost 15 years now, mostly successfully.


No one wants to be diagnosed with a corn allergy. (If you do, then you must not realize what a corn allergy really entails) But when you are sick, you need answers. Answers are a good thing, even if you don't like what they have to say. If something you're eating is making you sick, it's important to figure out what it is. Once you know what the problem is, you can take steps to resolve it.

You know when you don't feel right. There may be a myriad of potential symptoms that indicate there's something wrong, though most people only experience a handful of them. But going to the doctor doesn't always yield immediate results. Corn allergies seem to result in a lot of false negative results for both blood tests and skin prick tests, later to be proven by a double blind placebo test. Of course, that's no reason to jump to conclusions, there are a lot of potential causes for mystery symptoms.

The first thing to do when you suspect any sort of allergy or intolerance is to make a list of your concerns. Get some cold, hard facts down on paper. What are the symptoms you experience, how often are they happening and how severe are they? You might want to keep a food diary.

The second thing to do is to consult your doctor for some preliminary tests. There's no point in trying to track down a food allergy if your underlying problem is ringworm. (That's hyperbole. Hopefully no one reading this would confuse food allergies with ringworm, but you should get my point. There are other conditions out there.) It's also a good idea to get tested for Celiac Disease if you have digestive problems.

What Are The Symptoms of a Corn Allergy?

Brain Fog
Swelling anywhere in the body
Trouble Concentrating
Mysterious rashes
Temper tantrums in kids
"Shiners"-dark circles under eyes
Fatigue (can be debillitating)
Weight (gain or loss)

Corn allergy symptoms can vary, and may fluctuate between mild and severe.

Symptoms listed can occur with any food reaction (allergy, intolerance), not just corn.

What Else Could it Be?

When looking at reactions, it's important not to jump to conclusions. You can't heal unless you're treating the right condition. Which means, if you're allergic to corn, avoid corn derivatives. And if you aren't reacting to corn; you need to know what it is that's mimicking a corn allergy. A few conditions to consider:

  • Celiac Disease: An autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten. Giving up grains will improve the symptoms of one with Celiac Disease, and since corn is in the same family as gluten grains, and found in many gluten containing products (and many gluten free products), someone needing to avoid gluten might suspect corn instead.
  • Crohn's Disease and/or Ulcerative Colitis: Both are forms of inflammatory bowel disease. Proponents of the Specific Carb Diet (made famous by Elaine Gottschal) believe that avoiding certain sources of carbohydratye, including nearly all forms of corn derivatives, help give the gut a chance to heal. In this case, avoiding corn helps, but it needs to be more than corn.
  • Fructose Intolerance or Malabsorption: This is a condition where the body does not make the proper enzymes to break down fructose. It requires giving up certain, specific forms of corn derivatives as well as certain fruits and other sources of fructose.

Puzzle Pieces

When you have a difficult-to-diagnose condition such as a corn allergy, there are often lots of little pieces that you know are related. Symptoms that seem relevant but don't mean anything by themselves. Stomach issues, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, that are recurring but don't have an apparent cause. Hives that occur regularly and without reason. Food cravings or revulsions. Debilitating fatigue or mind fog that sets in right after lunch most days.

Many try to explain away symptoms as stress and frequent viruses. Maybe clinical anxiety or depression are stretched to try to fit the symtoms, and those diagosis can fit. But your gut instinct tells you to look farther, because you haven't solved the puzzle yet.

When you're trying to fit all the pieces together, write them down. Then start trying to find connections. People who are diagnosed with a corn allergy often remember looking at their diet and dismissing allergy originally.

They were seeing frequent reactions to such varied items as soda, breakfast cereal, chips and salsa, vitamins and canned soup. The pieces just don't add up. That is, unless you look at the list and see corn syrup, cornmeal, dried corn and corn dextrose, corn derived microcrystalline cellulose and actual fresh kernels of corn floating in that soup. (among other things)

Before diagnosis, I remember wondering why going to the movies with my parents would make me so sick. Of course, we came up with anxiety. Maybe it was overwhelming, and there were too many people. But why was I sick at the rolling of credits rather than on the car ride down? And why did I just break out in a few hives, without the stomach issues, when it was a friend I accompanied? In hind site, the answer is simple. My parents splurged on soda and popcorn. When I went with a friend, we drank water.

Suspect Foods

Most people with food allergies aren't allergic to more than a handful of items. But with a corn allergy, it looks like you're reacting to everything. Citric acid is in tomato sauce, dextrose coats frozen potatoes, it's in soy sauce and enriched pasta. The key to uncovering the real allergen is breaking up each item into it's ingredients and looking for a connection.

Citric acid is derived from corn. So is dextrose. As you put the pieces together, refer back to your food diary, Look for connections. Try ingredients out separately. (Not that you can find fresh citric acid to sip. You can, however, find vine ripened tomatoes. If you react to the canned ones and not the freshly harvested ones, you're getting somewhere.)

As you investigate and eliminate, the connection will become clear. Of course, you should check in with your doctor. Hopefully, you'll get lucky and find one who's well informed. The most they can really do is suggest you continue avoidance. But you'll need them to help if and when you need medication compounded to be corn free later down the line.

Now What?

Identifying that corn allergy (or corn intolerance, whichever you and the doctor agree to call it. Allergy is IgE mediated. Corn intolerance is less likely to turn fatal, but doesn't seem to convey the message of 'total avoidance of all derivatives' that corn avoiders find is necessary to function) is the firststep. It's not clear cut, as you have probably guessed from the article. It's mostly trial, error and investigation. There's a lot of "I must be crazy. I can't be allergic to that" involved; followed by proof positive that you aren't crazy. Or at least, that you are reacting to 'that'.

Discovering that there are corn derivatives in some cheese packaging, or a particular bottled water, or having a reaction to drywall dust is exactly what confirms your suspicions. It's a sort of blind test. What's different? There's a corn derivative that you wouldn't have guessed was there.

The next step is to find support. Your family and friends will be your real life support group, of course, but you also need to find a community of individuals who understand the overwhelming world of corn avoidance. There are a few online possibilities listed to the right. Or you can find your own. The goal is to discover a place where people 'get it'. Where they don't suggest trying again. Or giving up and buying Depends (as one oh-so-helpful so-called professional once suggested)

Of course, once you are certain it is a corn allergy, there are more steps. You'll need to clean out your kitchen. You'll need to go grocery shopping. Eventually, you'll have to travel outside of your comfort zone. But take it one step at a time. Your goal is health, not insanity. And each step you master will take you another step closer to answers. To living well, even if it is without corn.


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