Food allergy in non-food items

By Dr. John Leung and Rebecca Stanski, Tufts Medical Center

Although an allergic reaction is usually due to contact or accidentally eating the food, there are non-food items that can contain food ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction. These include cosmetics, lotions, medications and more.

Why is there food in medications?

Excipients are all substances found in medications other than the active ingredient(s). They are added to aid the manufacturing process, to enhance the stability of the product, or to make the product more appealing to the patient. Sometimes excipients come from foods, which can potentially be dangerous for those with food allergies.

Do people with food allergies normally have reactions to medications that contain the food they are allergic to?

It depends on how allergic the patient is to the food, and the amount of food substance in the medication. In general, reactions are rare since it is such a small amount of the food in the medication. Most people will tolerate these medications without having a reaction, but an allergic reaction is possible in some patients.

What are the common non-food items that may contain food substance?

1. Some vaccines contain egg, chicken, cow’s milk and gelatin proteins.

2. Certain asthma inhalers may contain a trace amount of soy protein or milk protein.

3. Dustless chalk may contain casein.

4. Children’s modeling dough such as Play-Doh contains wheat.

5. Cosmetics may contain milk, nut oils, wheat and soy.

Play Doh contains wheat, which may cause food allergies.

Play-Doh contains wheat, which may cause food allergies.

What if I am concerned about a food allergen being in my medication or other non-food items?

1. It is important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have a food allergy so that appropriate (food-allergen free) medications can be prescribed.

2. Read the label. However, please note that federal labeling laws do not apply to these non-food products and manufacturers are not mandated to list the potential food allergens.

3. Contact the manufacturer. You have the right to know.

4. Contact your doctor if you have any concern or question.

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About the authors

Rebecca Stanski is a dietetic intern. John Leung, MD, is an allergist, immunologist and gastroenterologist. Leung speaks Cantonese. He can be reached at (617) 636-5333.

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