Food Allergens in Medications

A new clinical review provides useful information about the potential presence of food allergens in prescription medications. Although some medications and vaccines do contain substances derived from foods, researchers found that most medications do not contain enough of a food protein to cause an allergic reaction.

In the article published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Dr. John M. Kelso (Scripps Clinic, San Diego, CA) explains that all medications contain excipients, substances that are added to the active ingredient of a drug during the manufacturing process. Examples include flavoring agents, preservatives and binding materials. The article offers a thorough review of medications that contain food-derived excipients and discusses whether each is safe for patients with food allergies. For example, the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine contains negligible or no egg protein and can be given to anyone with egg allergy. The typically available influenza vaccine contains trace amounts of egg protein, but authoritative professional associations have issued statements recommending vaccination for those with egg allergy and declaring that it may be administered safely with some precautions.  On the other hand, some vaccines, including MMR, may trigger a reaction in people who are allergic to gelatin. Fortunately, this allergy is not common. People with fish allergy may safely consume fish oil, since it does not contain fish protein.

Dr. Kelso further notes that if a person does have a reaction to a medication, the drug may be from a specific lot that was accidentally contaminated with food protein. “In most circumstances these medications should not be routinely withheld from patients who have particular food allergies because most will tolerate the medications uneventfully,” he writes. “However, if a particular patient has had an allergic reaction to the medication… allergy to the food component should be investigated.”

6 thoughts on “Food Allergens in Medications

  1. My daughter reacted to the gelatin in the MMR vaccine. This lead to years of avoidance and accidental reactions to foods with gelatin. She is also highly allergic to milk and cannot tolerate the milk substances placed in medications, such as the milk sugar lactose monohydrate. I feel all medications should be clearly labeled. The pharmacists do not catch this ingredient as an allergen. I have now listed this as one of her allergies with our pharmacy.

  2. No one should discount the food allergens that are in medications. I’ve been transported to the hospital due to a reaction to titanium dioxide in levaquin, had reactions to flu vaccines because of egg allergy, and a reaction to corn starch in Dallergy because of a corn allergy. in the article it has a table which shows several food allergens and the medications which contain them.

  3. Hmm, seems to be completely contrary to my actual medical experiences. Taking medicines with corn in them cause me to have reactions. I love how I’m supposed to just deal only if I have a reaction because most people can tolerate them. How about just requiring that manufacturers label everything and requiring insurance companies to cover compounding so I don’t have to play Russian Roulette every time I need to take a pill? When I had pneumonia it took me 6 weeks to get over the allergic reaction blisters on my feet that I had to the antibiotics because I couldn’t afford the compounding and doctors are completely unaware of what’s in medicines. Also, while we’re at it, it’d be nice if the FDA required total and complete labeling of every ingredient. I don’t appreciate having to remember 185 corn derivatives in addition to my other allergies just so I can read a label and not get sick, not that I can eat any processed food any more given that corn is in everything.

  4. I strongly disagree. My milk-allergic daughter reacted severely to the whey protein isolate in an ibuprofen tablet. She ended up in ICU.

  5. I have just begun blogging about this. There are food allergens in so many medications. Some of which are even specifically contraindicated for use in allergic individuals such as Pulmicort Flexhaler in people with a milk protein allergy. Post marketing results listed in Pulmicort Flexhaler’s package insert state that wheezing and bronchospasm have occurred in these individuals. I have found gelatin, corn, milk, soy, fish, shellfish and wheat in the everyday use meds retail pharmacies keep on their shelves. To top it off, pharmacists, in general, are not well educated on this.

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