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How Can You Identify Hidden Allergens in Medicine?

Genexa Genexa 2018-05-05 00:00:00 -0700


Are you one of the 15 million Americans [1] who has a food allergy? If you’re not, there’s still a pretty solid chance that you might still be the parent of a child with a food allergy. Approximately 1 in every 13 children has a food allergy, which equals roughly two children in every classroom. If food allergies affect you or your family, you’re going to want to keep reading!

When you choose a medicine, whether it’s over-the-counter or prescription, you should always carefully read the label. This is because medicine has two types of ingredients, active ingredients and inactive ingredients [2], which are both listed on the Drug Facts panel of your medicine. Active ingredients are the ingredients that “do the work” to make you feel better, and inactive ingredients are everything else (more about that in this video).

Many people know that it’s possible to be allergic to the active ingredients in medicine. If you have an allergy to any specific drug, then you should check the active ingredient list for it. However, did you know it’s also possible to be allergic to the inactive ingredients as well [3]? This is because many common inactive ingredients are made of common food allergens! That’s right: the millions of Americans who avoid food allergens every day also have to avoid those same allergens in their medicines.

These inactive ingredients are often used as sweeteners, binders, preservatives, or fillers. Some, like artificial dyes, are simply used to make the medicine a certain color! Allergens like gluten are used to hold tablets together, while lactose is often used as a sweetener. If you’re allergic to these foods, you’ll need to know how to identify their presence in your medicine.

But here’s the trick: food allergens in medicines aren’t always listed under recognizable names. For instance, if you’re allergic to eggs, you should look out for the presence of phospholipids [4] in common over-the-counter medicine tablets – they can trigger an allergic reaction in people with egg allergies! 

Here’s a quick cheat sheet [5] for the most common food allergens and their listed name on medicine labels.

  • If you’re allergic to eggs, look out for “Egg Protein”, “Ovalbumin”, and “Phospholipids.”
  • If you’re allergic to milk or dairy, look out for the presence of “Casein” and “Lactose.”
  • If you’re allergic to any kind of nuts, look out for “Vegetable Oil” [6], “Peanut Oil”, or “Sesame oil”.
  • If you’re allergic to artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes, look for “Aspartame”, “Mannitol”, “Sorbitol”, or “Saccharine”.
  • If you’re allergic to gluten, then look for “Starch” – any kind! Most starches contain multiple kinds, including wheat starch [7].

Individuals experience food allergies at varying levels. For some people, even trace amounts of the allergen can trigger a reaction. For others, it can take a significant portion of the allergen to cause any kind of effect. It’s best to talk with an allergist about your food allergies to know whether the amount of an allergen in your medicine could cause a reaction. 

You may want to print this list and take it with you to the pharmacy next time you go to pick up medicine for you and your family! And for more advice, content, and news from Genexa, sign up for our email list.


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