Wheat Allergy: Five Signs that You May be Allergic to Wheat
Wheat allergies and celiac disease are a concern to many people worldwide. Nearly 750 million tons of wheat are produced and consumed yearly, and wheat remains the staple grain of much of the world. Even so, 1% of people in developing countries are thought to be diagnosed with celiac disease, but over 80% of people with the disease are thought to remain undiagnosed and suffering.
Wheat allergy is different from celiac disease, but no less serious. But what is wheat allergy? How is it different, and what are the symptoms?
Is it wheat allergy or celiac disease?
Celiac disease is very specific. It is a genetic autoimmune disorder, in which eating gluten causes white blood cells to attack the lining of the small intestine. Over time, this causes poor absorption of nutrients from food, and triggers well over 275 associated symptoms. Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood screening, and sometimes with a biopsy of the small intestine. The only solution is maintenance of a gluten-free diet for life.
Wheat allergy is a simple immune response to any of the proteins found in wheat. The body triggers antibodies to attack the wheat, and in doing so indirectly causes other signs and symptoms that range from uncomfortable to deadly. Wheat allergy is diagnosed by an allergist, through skin testing. The solution is a wheat-free diet, but gluten from other sources may be tolerated.
What are the symptoms of wheat allergy?
Wheat allergy symptoms are not unlike the allergy symptoms that sensitive people may exhibit while eating shellfish or when stung by a bee. They can present in minutes to hours of eating wheat, depending on the individual. They can include the following:
Watery eyes and headache
Often overlooked as a symptom of wheat allergy, dull headaches and itchy, watery eyes can be mistaken for pollen or seasonal allergies. Keeping a food diary can better help isolate the cause.
Cramps, nausea, and digestive upset
The symptoms that people most associate with food poisoning or celiac disease can be present in wheat allergy.
Hives and rash
Hives are itchy, red welts that occur over the body. Rash is more diffuse. Both may be mistaken for poison ivy or a detergent of fabric softener allergy. Few think “wheat” when they occur.
Itchy mouth and throat
Many food allergies feature itchy mouth and throat as a common symptom, as well as numbness or swelling of the tongue.
Anaphylaxis is the most serious of the allergic reactions marked by inability to breathe, chest tightness, a swollen throat and in ability to swallow, dizziness, fast heartbeat and blue skin. It is a medical emergency, and 911 should be called.
Additionally, there’s a rare unusual symptom of wheat allergy. Called wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis. The combination of wheat and strenuous exercise triggers anaphylaxis in some individuals. Neither wheat nor exercise alone triggers the allergic response. The cause is not well-known, but individuals known to have it must wait several hours between consuming wheat and exercising.
When we think of wheat, our thoughts turn to gluten and celiac disease. Still, wheat allergies can be just as severe, and an equally valid reason to limit or stop eating wheat.