June 2012

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Did you know that many prescription and over the counter medications contain allergens like gluten and dairy?

Allergy medicines like Zyrtec, Benadryl, and Prednisone all contain dairy — the most common food allergen in America.One in five Americans suffer from allergies and many of them have multiple allergies. It is slightly less common to experience multiple categories of allergies like seasonal together with food, but we do know that 27% of children who have a food allergy also have a skin allergy, like eczema, for instance, which could be treated with a drug like prednisone.

It is understandable to assume that your doctor would not prescribe something that contains one of your allergies as an ingredient. However, pharmaceutical companies are not required to publish the ingredients of the medications they produce. This is in direct contrast to food and nutritional/herbal supplement labeling. Most food items have common allergens labeled on the packaging. It is usually easy to find allergy information in the FAQ section of food company websites or by calling their customer service. Most nutritional and herbal supplement companies make purchases especially convenient by confirming the lack of allergens right on the label. If you are accustomed to this you may assume that pharmaceutical companies would act similarly.


What is the best way to protect yourself from allergens in your medication?

If you are highly sensitive you will need to verify the ingredients of every prescription or over-the-counter drug you take. First, ask your doctor. They may be familiar with the allergy information for your particular dosage. If they do not know, you will need to contact the pharmaceutical company directly or ask your pharmacist to do this for you. It might save time to do it yourself.

Contact pharmaceutical companies

As an experiment, I chose two of the top five most prescribed drugs in America, Hydrocodone (pain relief) and Synthroid (synthetic thyroid) and tried to find out if they contained derivatives of gluten and dairy. After a couple of minutes online and six minutes on the phone with two different pharmaceutical companies, I found out that Hydrocodone does not contain gluten or dairy. It was more difficult to find a phone number for  Synthroid but after making one call I was able to get a direct number to the company’s lab. Within a few minutes I found out that Synthroid does not contain gluten but it does contain a dairy ingredient, lactose manohydrate. I learned that there can be different recipes for the same drug so it helps to know know your exact dosage when calling. 

Fill your prescription at a compounding pharmacist

If you find out your medication contains an allergen, your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative formulation of the same medication. Or, you can have your prescription filled at a compounding pharmacy where a pharmacist will mix your medication specifically to your needs. I spoke with a compounding pharmacist in Chicago who uses bicarb as an excipient but other ingredients like tapioca are possible. Excipients are bindings, coatings, or other inactive ingredients in medication. The pharmacist said that if pure, whole ingredients are available to compound, he would know the exact ingredients but occasionally, one of the main components is a mix of proprietary ingredients that do not have to be listed. In that case, the pharmacist will have to call the company to find out if allergens are present. The benefits of using a compounding pharmacist is they are accustomed to working with customers who have allergies and you will be able to get medications free of unnecessary ingredients like dyes, etc. It is more expensive but it is possible for your doctor to confirm it is a medical necessity so that your insurance will cover the extra cost.


You can find a list of common excipient ingredients here:

Excipient list

This list may help your purchases of over the counter drugs which often list their inactive ingredients on the package.


Having allergies can make anyone feel like an investigative reporter but the extra work can prevent painful reactions and harmful inflammation. If you’re interested in minimizing your intake of pharmaceuticals, Prevention magazine came up with a list of science based alternatives for the most prescribed medications in America. We’re happy to see acupuncture listed as an effective replacement for pain relief. Be sure to discuss your options with your doctors before making any changes. 




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