FeaturesOct/Nov 2013 Issue

Corn-Fed and Allergic?

Allergy and intolerance to corn are hard to shuck.

[Updated May 15, 2015]

Photo © Madisonwi/iStockphoto

Katie Evers tossed a few handfuls of popcorn into her mouth as she prepared for her son’s third birthday party in May 2011. Before long, she began to have extreme difficulty breathing, along with a hard time walking or even understanding what was going on. Evers took some Benadryl, hoping it would do the trick. It helped her get through the night but she woke up the next morning in a pool of sweat, unable to stand, her heart racing and her lungs feeling so tight it was as though she was sucking air through a straw. An ambulance raced her to the emergency room.

At the hospital, Evers was diagnosed with panic attacks based on her chest pain, difficulty breathing and tachycardia (an abnormally rapid resting heart rate). But she believed something else was the culprit.

“At the time, I had no idea what was bothering me," Evers says. "But after I told my new allergist what I had eaten that day, she said she thought corn caused the reaction. She told me sternly that I sould have used my EpiPen and that i was very lucky that nothing worse happened."†

Evers, of Plaistow, New Hampshire, had been diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame back in 2005. In 2008, during a rough pregnancy, she suffered severe stomach aches, extreme fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Inexplicitly, the symptoms persisted even after the birth of her son. She felt like she had a never-ending cold and constant rapid heartbeat. A battery of medical tests revealed no answers.

By 2010, she started noticing a connection between her symptoms and food she was eating. Her allergist at the time said he didn’t think she had developed any new allergies and refused to test her.

“I felt so defeated. I thought I had finally figured out why I felt sicker and sicker but then was told by someone in the medical community that I was basically crazy,” she says.

Her symptoms escalated to the day she was rushed to the emergency room. It was then that Evers determined to consult a different allergist. In late 2011, testing revealed that, in addition to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame, she was allergic to lemon, peaches, pears, chocolate, oranges, tomatoes, peas—and corn.

“When I saw corn, at first I thought nothing of it. I thought, ‘Oh that can’t be hard to avoid. Corn really isn’t in much of anything,’” Evers says. “If I can avoid peanuts and tree nuts, I should be fine avoiding corn. This will be a piece of cake.”

It wasn’t long before she discovered that corn is ubiquitous. It can show up in products like powdered sugar, meat, condiments, sauces, yogurt, beverages, medications, body powder, paper plates, crayons and toothpaste.

“I realized everything I had been putting into my body had some type of corn in it,” Evers says. “At this point, I felt as though my world came crashing down.”

Next: Hidden Corn

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