I have a multitude of food allergies. This requires me to spend time doing research before consuming anything. Things get more complicated when something that used to be safe changes some ingredients, or I randomly start having an allergic reaction to things that didn’t cause me problems before.
This leads to unwanted research adventures as I try to figure out what went wrong. I posted my most recent experience with this problem on social media and added in some more details here.
Today, I accidentally got glutened and had to spend a bunch of time on research as I tried to figure out what made me sick.
The only things I consumed today were: (generic) Benadryl, a sub from Jersey Mike’s (on gluten-free bread) and Lady Grey tea from Twinnings. The tea is safe. That leaves two potential culprits.
It is incredibly difficult to find out if a medication contains gluten. The Benadryl manufacturer’s website lists ingredients, and leaves me to research each one. It doesn’t specifically say that it is gluten free. I’m also going to have spend time searching for the ingredients that are in the generic version of Benadryl, and then cross-checking them to see if anything is different in the brand name version.
The type of Benadryl I’ve been taking, for years, is the generic version. I take half of one bright pink pill as needed. This is in addition to the Zyrtec I take daily (and have been taking for years), and the herbal medications that my acupuncturist suggested to me. All have their uses.
The scary part is that I often use Benadryl to quell an oncoming allergy attack, in the hopes that it will stop (or at least slow down) the symptoms. Where I live is experiencing Spring pollen season, and I had several days in a row where I have a terrifying cough attack shortly after starting my day. The Benadryl seemed to help prevent additional cough attacks.
If I cannot take Benadryl anymore… I have absolutely no idea what to replace it with. So, I’m feeling frantic because I’m in the midst of an allergic reaction and realizing there’s a possibility that my savior, my Benadryl, has forsaken me.
I learned that neither the brand name Benadryl, nor the generic, have pre-gelatinized starch. That’s good, because pre-gelatinized starch can contain wheat. Or, it could contain corn or tapioca.
I discovered the hard way that drug manufacturers don’t feel the need to let people know what kind of starch is in their version of pre-gelatinized starch. I guess the extra two seconds it would take to print that information on the in-active ingredient label is too hard. They find it easier to irresponsibly let people with food allergies get very sick from their product – which they would have avoided taking – if they knew an allergen was in it.
As such, I refuse to purchase medication that has pre-gelatinized starch in it. There is no logical reason to give money to a pharmaceutical company that doesn’t care if it harms me with an easily identifiable allergen.
My next guess was that I was having an allergic reaction to the red dye on the Benadryl pills. The bright pink color comes from Red Dye No. 27. I’ve always had issues with red food dye because I can taste it and it is terrible. I’m not sure that I could do a taste test and pick out one type of red dye from another – but I can definitely taste the dye in food and on medications.
The best tool I’ve found to help me determine if an ingredient is, or is not, gluten free, is Celiac.com’s Safe Gluten-Free Food List – which is also called Safe Ingredients. There are several different kinds of red dye that are on the Safe Ingredients list. FD&C Red No. 27 is NOT on the list. Therefore, it isn’t gluten free.
It is terrifying to learn that Benadryl, which a doctor told me to take, is not gluten free. I’ve been taking it for years, without having the slightest idea that it contained gluten. At this point in my unwanted research project, I was very worried about what on Earth I could replace Benadryl with.
Next, I had to do research to see if I got glutened from the Jersey Mike’s sub I ate. Jersey Mike’s has gluten-free bread. They train their workers to use new gloves before touching the gluten-free bread. There is a dedicated space where only gluten free bread is cut, with a knife that only touches gluten-free bread.
After the gluten free bread is cut, the worker picks up the paper the bread was placed on and carries it to the worker that can make the sandwich. The gluten-free bread never touches the counter (where all the regular, gluten-filled, bread has been sitting). In my experience, it is difficult to find a sub shop that actually trains its workers how to avoid cross-contamination.
However, there is a flaw in their training plan. I read several blog posts from fellow allergic people who got glutened from a Jersey Mike’s sandwich. How could that happen? The worker who cuts the bread does everything right. Problems occur when the worker who fills the sandwich doesn’t put on fresh gloves before touching the gluten-free bread.
This results in the outside of the sandwich being gluten-free, and the inside being contaminated with gluten. There is another problem, though. The worker who fills the sandwich has been touching “regular” bread all day, and then touching the veggies and meat with gluten-contaminated gloves. None of that is safe for me to eat now.
In one day, I lost two things that were bringing me joy, with no obvious replacement to fall back on. My food allergies make my world smaller and smaller. It’s disappointing and frustrating, especially on days when the pollen count is too high for me to safely go outside.
I can live without the lovely subs from Jersey Mike’s. But, this leaves me one less place where my husband and I can eat together. He can still eat their subs, and that is fine with me. What bothers me is that my food allergies, once again, prevent us from engaging in the things that healthy couples can easily do.
The next day, the pollen count was at a 9 point something. I woke up with sinus pain so bad it was pressing down on my upper gums. There was no way I could leave the house today, and I had nothing to replace the Benadryl with. If I had more energy, I would probably have felt terrified about no longer having the medication I need to stop this level of sinus pain.
My husband went to the pharmacy and sent me photos of the inactive ingredients on the bottles of every type of Benadryl and generic version of Benadryl. Back and forth, back and forth. I dropped what I was doing (which was trying to finish some paid writing work), because I needed to pick up another unwanted research project. I’m tired of my allergies dropping random “open-book pop quizzes” on me. If I fail, I get sick or die.
All it takes is one questionable ingredient. One little thing that is unsafe for me to consume spoils the entire product. After about a half-hour of back and forth, and visits to numerous websites for research, we found something that seemed like it might be safe.
There is a liquid version of Benadryl that is grape flavored. The ingredients seemed safe. There was one, I forget what it was called, that I hadn’t seen before. To learn if it was safe for me, I had to read ingredient lists of unrelated medications that also had that ingredient. Eventually, I found a medication for kids (it might have been a cough medicine) that had that particular ingredient in it AND was gluten free. From this, I extrapolated that the ingredient I was searching is, in fact, gluten free.
As always, there was still a mystery ingredient: “Flavors”. There is no way to know what, exactly, that is. It could be something I have no problem with. It could be something that causes anaphylaxis. I pause here to note the irony of having to find a new allergy medication because of an allergic reaction to the one I was taking – and wondering if the mystery ingredient on an alternative version of that medication might result in an allergic reaction as well.
Things should not have to be this hard!
There wasn’t much choice, so I decide to gamble. The liquid, grape-flavored Benadryl was clear in color. No dye! It tasted better than I would have expected it to. Interestingly, it felt different than the half-tablet of bright pink Benadryl I’d been taking did. My conclusion is the red dye 27 contains gluten (but I can’t prove it).