Corn allergy is an immune reaction that occurs in your body when your immune system mistakes corn or corn-related items and releases immunoglobulin E (Ig E) to neutralize the allergen.
Corn allergy can be harmful and caused due to exposure to corn or corn products like corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and vegetable oil.
Immunoglobulin E antibodies bind to the allergens and then to the receptors of mast cells or basophils. As a result, your body triggers the release of inflammatory substances like histamine.
You may have heard a lot about other food allergies. Common food allergens are soya beans, peanuts, shellfish, wild-caught fish, eggs, and tree nuts, but corn allergies are so rare that diagnosis can be challenging and is usually made based on history.
1. What Causes Corn Allergy?
Studies have shown that corn allergy combines environmental, genetic, and epigenetic factors. Corn has a protein called zein that causes an allergy.
Another study has shown that a 9 kD lipid transfer protein is another culprit responsible for corn allergy symptoms.
Wondering how to detect corn allergies? Here are some symptoms you need to look out for.
2. Corn Allergy Symptoms
Food allergy symptoms vary, especially in the case of corn. While most corn allergy symptoms are unpleasant, some can be life-threatening.
Mild corn intolerance symptoms appear just after consuming corn or corn products or even after a few hours in some people.
2.1. Common Corn Allergy Symptoms
- Itching, especially around or inside the mouth.
- Tingling sensation in the tongue.
- Hives and skin rashes or reddening of the skin.
- Runny nose, sneezing.
- Swelling in some parts of the body.
- Dizziness, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, can also occur due to a corn allergy.
2.2. Symptoms of Anaphylaxis Include
- Difficulty breathing
- Nose block or congested nasal cavity
- Tightness in the throat, choking
- Fainting, lethargy, or shock
- Increased heart rate
Such severe cases of allergic reactions require immediate professional medical advice. It can be harmful and cause unconsciousness or even death if not treated right away.
3. Can you Develop a Corn Allergy Later in Life?
While most people are born with an allergy, others develop it later. The onset of allergies during adulthood can occur out of nowhere due to exposure to allergens in a new environment or new allergens, family history, and changes in your immune system.
There is no known way to avoid adult-onset corn allergies, but you can avoid the susceptible allergen that triggers your symptoms.
It may seem weird that you woke up one day and found yourself having a runny nose, sneezing, and a headache after being exposed to corn. Adult-onset corn allergies are like that and vary from person to person.
4. Corn Allergy Diagnosis
Corn allergies are usually self-diagnosed. Before going to a doctor, you might want to confirm that you have a corn allergy. This can be done with an elimination diet and food challenge.
An elimination diet requires you to remove several suspected food items from your diet for two weeks. Subsequently, these items are slowly added to the diet at specific intervals to trace the food allergen, provoking a reaction.
You might have a corn allergy if you do not observe the above-mentioned symptoms after eliminating corn.
This can be confirmed by doing a food challenge that requires you to intentionally expose yourself to or eat corn to see if that provokes a corn allergic reaction.
4.1. Corn Allergy Test
It is an IgE allergy test that uses a blood sample to check if you have an allergy to corn.
If you suspect your baby has a corn allergy, book an allergy test with a board-certified allergist.
After confirming a corn allergy, you might want to see a doctor or a board-certified allergist.
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam, check other health issues, and do skin tests to prescribe allergy medication according to your symptoms.
4.2. Can Allergies from Corn Stop On Their Own?
During diagnosis, a frequently asked question is, can you outgrow corn allergy, or can corn allergy improve with time?
During your initial reaction, the severity of corn allergy can indicate the chances of your allergy improving with time.
It is seen that food allergies due to soya beans, milk, or fish can improve with time, while food allergies due to other allergens like tree nuts, corn, peanuts, and shellfish are less likely to improve.
If your corn allergy gets better with time, it is not recommended to assume that you have outgrown it. It would be best if you visited an allergist for testing.
The best way to treat corn allergy is to avoid exposure to corn.
Corn is everywhere in different forms, from corn on the cob in fields to fresh corn in a typical American diet.
It is well hidden in several food sources and can be challenging to find.
Also, corn doesn’t fall under the Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act 2004, which means that manufacturers don’t need to list corn as an ingredient, highlight it on product labels or mention it as an allergen in a product.
That is why people with corn allergies find it hard to avoid corn. You can talk to a nutritionist or a dietician to become familiar with food ingredients containing corn.
Ask the chef about the ingredients and oils used to prepare food at a restaurant or a formal party.
It might be possible that food items do not contain any corn, but they could be using corn oil. At gatherings and picnics, you can bring your lunch.
5.1. Food Items to Avoid
These food items always or often contain corn. Preventing them is highly recommended.
- Corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup
- Corn on the cob
- Corn oil or vegetable oil
- Corn chips or tortilla chips
- Corn starch
- Salad dressing
- Cornmeal; Popcorn
- Breakfast cereals such as cornflakes
- Tortillas made of corn
- Certain vegetable soups which contain raw or cooked corn
- Corn sugars
- Corn beer
- Corn whiskey
- Corn tea
Many processed foods contain 75% corn, so always check the ingredients before purchasing. Some pet food also has ingredients like corn oil and corn starch, which may be nutritious for your pet, but trigger an allergic reaction in you.
It is important to note that non-food items contain corn, such as shampoos, crayons, and toothpaste.
5.2. Food Items that use Corn or Corn Related Products
Always look out for the following foods: they may contain corn or be made up of corn oil, corn syrups, corn bran, cornstarch, cornmeal, or corn adhesives.
Check their ingredients carefully before consumption.
- Peanut butter
- Processed Cheese
- Various cold cut and deli meat like bacon, ham, sausages
- Fish sticks and gravy thickened with cornstarch
- Fried food, if corn oil is used
- Pork and beans
- Chowmein, fried potatoes
- Frozen vegetables
- Bread sprinkled with cornmeal
- Pancakes, pancake syrups, and some baking mixes
- Ice creams
- Wines, beers, gin
- Baking Powder, Powdered sugars
- Frozen food dressed with corn syrups
- Tacos and muffins
- Canned foods
- Vinegar, particularly white vinegar
- Instant coffee and Jams
- Carbonate Beverages like Coca-Cola
- Vanilla extract, malt syrup, modified food starch
- Confectionaries like candies, jellies, marshmallows
- Monosodium glutamate
6. Corn Allergy Treatment
The best way to treat corn allergy is to avoid eating corn or being exposed to corn products. However, if avoidance isn’t possible, you can treat mild symptoms with antihistamines.
You need immediate medical attention for other reactions to corn or anaphylactic reactions. Your doctor would give you epinephrine (EpiPen).
Here are some corn-free substitute food items that can be used in case you are experiencing corn allergy:
- Natural meats
- Fresh vegetables
- Wheat flour
- Rice flour
- Wheat bread and rice bread
- Unprocessed cheese
- Pure honey
- Plain yoghurt
- Chocolate chips
- Wheat-based pasta
- Canola oil
- Fresh fruits
7. Genetically Modified (GMO) Corn
Corn is one of the common crops grown, and the vast majority of corn sold and consumed in the United States is Genetically modified (GM). GMO corn is created to tolerate herbicides or resist pests.
Corn is widely used in our daily life with its mass production, from sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup) to feeding farm animals like cows, pigs, and chickens. Consuming meat or products like milk from these corn-fed animals when you are intolerant to corn can make you extremely ill.
The increased production of GMOs in the US sees an increase in people with severe food allergies. Children are commonly diagnosed now with Asthma, intolerance, and other autoimmune disorders.
Most people are now substituting GM corn with organic or non-GM corn or corn products.
8. In The End
It is advised strictly to avoid corn or corn products for people; who are corn-sensitive, carbohydrate-sensitive, or have insulin-related problems.
Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, 100% juice, and lean protein (chicken or meat). Beware of these products that may contain corn: baking powder, corn, corn oil, vegetable oil, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn, and corn bran.
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9. Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What Are the Symptoms of Corn Intolerance?
- Hives (red, itchy skin bumps) or a skin rash.
- Nausea (sick to your stomach), cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
- Asthma (breathing trouble)
- Anaphylaxis is a serious condition that makes it hard or impossible to breathe and can cause death.
Q2. How Common Is Corn Allergy?
Around 1% to 6% of the population may be allergic to corn.
Q3. Is Corn a High Allergy Food?
Corn intolerance and corn sensitivity are considerably more common than corn allergies.