A wheat allergy occurs when your immune system has an abnormal reaction to any of the proteins present in wheat. When a person with a wheat allergy comes into contact with wheat, their body perceives the wheat as a threat. The body sends out antibodies to attack it. This immune response can cause many symptoms, some of which are potentially life-threatening.
Although wheat allergy is commonly confused with celiac disease, the two are separate conditions that are diagnosed differently and have different symptoms. Celiac disease causes an abnormal immune response to gluten, which is one of the proteins found in wheat. Celiac disease may not cause immediate symptoms, but causes long-term damage to a person’s intestines. Another condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity causes digestive problems in people who do not have celiac disease or wheat allergy.
The symptoms of wheat allergy can be avoided completely by living a wheat-free lifestyle.
A child or adult with wheat allergy is likely to develop signs and symptoms within minutes to hours after eating something containing wheat.
Wheat allergy signs and symptoms include:
▪️ Swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat.
▪️ Hives, itchy rash or swelling of the skin.
▪️ Nasal congestion.
▪️ Difficulty breathing.
▪️ Cramps, nausea or vomiting.
For some people, wheat allergy may cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In addition to other signs and symptoms of wheat allergy, anaphylaxis may cause:
▪️ Swelling or tightness of the throat.
▪️ Chest pain or tightness.
▪️ Severe difficulty breathing.
▪️ Trouble swallowing.
▪️ Pale, blue skin color.
▪️ Dizziness or fainting.
If you have wheat allergy, exposure to a wheat protein primes your immune system for an allergic reaction. You can develop an allergy to any of the four classes of wheat proteins — albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten.Sources of wheat proteins.
Some sources of wheat proteins are obvious, such as bread, but all wheat proteins — and gluten in particular — can be found in many prepared foods and even in some cosmetics, bath products and play dough.
Foods that may include wheat proteins include:
▪️ Breads and bread crumbs.
▪️ Cakes, muffins and cookies.
▪️ Breakfast cereals.
▪️ Hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
▪️ Soy sauce.
▪️ Meat products, such as hot dogs.
▪️ Dairy products, such as ice cream.
▪️ Natural flavorings.
▪️ Gelatinized starch.
▪️ Modified food starch.
▪️ Vegetable gum.
If you have wheat allergy, it’s possible you might also be allergic to barley, oats and rye. Unless you’re allergic to grains other than wheat, though, the recommended wheat-free diet is less restrictive than a gluten-free diet.
Wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxisSome people with wheat allergy develop symptoms only if they exercise within a few hours after eating wheat. Exercise-induced changes in your body either trigger an allergic reaction or worsen an immune system response to a wheat protein. This condition usually results in life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Certain factors may put you at greater risk of developing wheat allergy:
▪️ Family history. You’re at increased risk of allergy to wheat or other foods if your parents have food allergies or other allergies, such as asthma.
▪️ Age. Wheat allergy is most common in babies and toddlers, who have immature immune and digestive systems. Most children outgrow wheat allergy by 16, but adults can develop it, often as a cross-sensitivity to grass pollen.
A physical exam, detailed medical history and some tests will help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Tests or diagnostic tools may include:
▪️ Skin test. Tiny drops of purified allergen extracts — including extracts for wheat proteins — are pricked onto your skin’s surface, either on your forearm or on your upper back. After 15 minutes, your doctor or nurse looks for signs of allergic reactions.
If you develop a red, itchy bump where the wheat protein extract was pricked onto your skin, you may be allergic to wheat. The most common side effect of these skin tests is itching and redness.
▪️ Blood test. If a skin condition or possible interactions with certain medications prevent you from having a skin test, your doctor may order a blood test that screens for specific allergy-causing antibodies to common allergens, including wheat proteins.
▪️ Food diary. Your doctor may ask you to keep a detailed record of what and when you eat and when symptoms develop for a time.
▪️ Elimination diet. Your doctor may recommend that you remove certain foods from your diet, particularly those that are common allergens. Under your doctor’s direction, you will gradually add foods back and note when symptoms return.
▪️ Food challenge testing. You eat food suspected of being the allergy-causing agent while being monitored for allergy symptoms. Under supervision, you begin with a small amount of the food and gradually increase the amount you consume.
Avoiding wheat proteins is the best treatment for wheat allergy. Because wheat proteins appear in so many prepared foods, read product labels carefully.
▪️ Antihistamines may reduce signs and symptoms of minor wheat allergy. These drugs can be taken after exposure to wheat to control your reaction and help relieve discomfort.
▪️ Epinephrine is an emergency treatment for anaphylaxis. If you’re at risk of having a severe reaction to wheat, you may need to carry two injectable doses of epinephrine (EpiPen, Adrenaclick, others) with you at all times.
A second pen is recommended for people at high risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis in case anaphylactic symptoms return before emergency care is available.
Lifestyle and home remedies.
You can take steps to avoid exposure to wheat proteins and ensure prompt treatment when you’re accidentally exposed to wheat.
▪️ Keep others informed. If your child has wheat allergy, make sure that anyone who takes care of your child, including the principal, teachers and nurse at school or child care, knows about the allergy and the signs of wheat exposure. If your child carries epinephrine, make sure school personnel know how to use the pen, if necessary, and that they need to contact emergency care immediately. Inform friends, relatives and co-workers of your own food allergy.
▪️ Wear a bracelet. A medical identification bracelet that describes the allergy and need for emergency care can help if you experience anaphylaxis and can’t communicate.
▪️ Always read labels. Don’t trust that a product is free of what you can’t eat until you read the label. Wheat proteins, especially gluten, are used as food thickeners, and they appear in many unexpected places. Also, don’t assume that once you’ve used a certain brand of a product, it will always be safe. Ingredients change.
▪️ Shop for gluten-free foods. Some specialty stores and supermarkets offer gluten-free foods, which are safe for people with wheat allergies. However, they may also be free of grains that you can eat, so sticking to gluten-free foods may limit your diet needlessly.
▪️ Consult wheat-free cookbooks. Cookbooks specializing in recipes without wheat can help you cook safely and enable you to enjoy baked goods and other foods made with substitutes for wheat.
▪️ Dine out cautiously. Tell restaurant staff about your allergy and how serious it can be if you eat anything with wheat. Ask staff how meals are prepared, and order simple dishes made with fresh foods. Avoid foods such as sauces that may have hidden sources of wheat proteins.
Joanna Poceta (8-1-2016), “Symptoms of a Wheat Allergy”، www.healthline.com