Wheat Allergy, Celiac Disease, and Gluten Intolerance; What You Need to Know
Wheat allergies range from a mild skin rash to a fatal reaction. Most common in children, wheat allergies are often discovered upon the introduction of cereal into an infants’ diet. Wheat and wheat products are present not only in breads, but also in a variety of foods and in non-food products that infants or small children may come in contact with. Thankfully, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, approximately 65 percent of children with a wheat allergy will outgrow it by the time they reach 12 years of age, and most allergic reactions are mild.
Among wheat allergy, celiac disease, and gluten intolerance, the allergy is by far the most immediately serious. With a myriad of symptoms and possible reactions, diagnosis by a medical doctor or allergist is essential. Those who are feeding their child anything containing wheat or a wheat derivative for the first time should watch closely afterwards for the following symptoms:
-Hives or skin rash
-Anaphylaxis (potentially life-threatening)
According to the ACAAI, these are the most common signs of wheat allergy. Anaphylaxis, by far the most severe reaction, must immediately be treated by epinephrine. Epinephrine is best administered by an EpiPen or similar direct-inject product.
Wheat allergy is most successfully managed by completely avoiding products that contain even a small amount of gluten or wheat. This can be complicated as wheat can masquerade under many different names. A few of them are spelt, dinkle, durum, starch, bulgur, couscous, and einkorn. If your child has a wheat allergy, it’s best to avoid foods that mention any of these ingredients.
While a wheat allergy is usually outgrown early in life, celiac disease can develop at any age and be a lifelong ailment. Wheat allergy is an overreaction of the immune system. Conversely, celiac disease is an abnormal immune reaction in the small intestine, which damages the organ and interferes with its ability to absorb vital nutrients. Complete avoidance of wheat and gluten in the diet is necessary to allow the small intestine to heal and to prevent further damage. Unlike wheat allergy, continuous ingestion of gluten will lead to far more serious, and chronic, diseases such as diabetes or cancer in the digestive tract.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, there are over 200 symptoms, including:
-Unexplained iron deficiency
-Bone or joint pain
-Seizures or migraines
-Missed menstrual periods
-Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin rash)
Gluten-free dieting is the sole treatment for celiac disease. Although inconvenient, it is necessary to allow intestinal healing. A simple blood test will detect the condition, but a diagnostic confirmation requires a biopsy of the small intestine. The biopsy can be conducted through an endoscopy, which is usually an outpatient procedure.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is sometimes diagnosed when symptoms are similar to those of wheat allergy or celiac disease, but the testing produce negative results. Sufferers of NCGS tend to experience symptoms hours or possibly even days after gluten ingestion, most of which are not associated with the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, including dermatitis, arthritis, or depression. The condition is not believed to cause damage to the intestine, although research into this is still ongoing. As with wheat allergy and celiac disease, treatment for NCGS is the administration of a gluten-free diet. Avoid wheat, barley, rye, and any pastas or breads. More information about NCGS can be found at celiac.org.
Wheat allergy, celiac disease, and NCGS all require a medical diagnosis. While they vary in seriousness, complete avoidance of gluten is the best way to avoid any complications from all of them. If you suspect you or your child may have any of these conditions, schedule an appointment to see your doctor.