What is a Wheat Allergy?
A wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to wheat. If you have a wheat allergy, your immune system reacts to certain proteins in wheat as threats to your body. Therefore, when you consume wheat, eat food containing wheat, or in some cases inhale wheat flour, your immune system releases histamine. Histamine is a chemical that causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Wheat allergies are more common in children. You are more likely to develop a wheat allergy if one or both of your parents have any form of allergies.
The most common wheat allergy symptoms are nausea, vomiting and hives. Hives are irritated, reddened bumps on the skin. Sometimes people refer to wheat allergy hives as a wheat allergy rash or a wheat allergy skin rash. An allergic reaction to wheat can be mild or severe.
Common wheat allergy symptoms include:
- Eczema, or a skin rash
- Swollen stomach
- Irritated mouth
- Irritated throat
- Swollen mouth
- Swollen throat
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
Rarely, wheat allergies can cause anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction that can be life threatening. This symptom usually occurs immediately after exposure to wheat. Signs and symptoms associated with anaphylactic shock are trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, tightness in your throat, lightheadedness, and passing out or fainting.
Wheat intolerance is different than a wheat allergy. A wheat intolerance is generally short-lived, non-fatal, and symptoms only occur when you consume wheat. Exposure to wheat typically does not cause wheat intolerance symptoms. In addition, wheat intolerance symptoms are usually gradual instead of immediate, and may not occur at all unless you eat a lot of wheat or foods that contain wheat.
A wheat allergy develops when your immune system recognizes wheat proteins as harmful substances. As a protective response, your immune system releases histamine, a chemical that triggers the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
There are certain foods containing wheat that we recommend you avoid if you have a wheat allergy. Avoiding these foods and food items is sometimes referred to as a wheat intolerance diet.
The following list of food or food products can include wheat:
- Root beer
- Coffee substitutes
- Instant chocolate drink mix
- Vegetable gum
- Dairy products
- Ice cream
- Ice cream cones
- Malted milk
- Modified food starch
- Meat substitutes
- Crab substitutes
- Shrimp substitutes
- Soy sauce
- Gelatinized starch
- Condiments like ketchup
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Processed meat like hotdogs
- Natural flavorings
- Worcestershire sauce
Wheat can also be found in non-food items such as:
- Bath products
A wheat allergy and celiac disease share similar causes but are not the same condition. In both conditions, the immune system reacts adversely to a wheat protein. However, in celiac disease, the specific wheat protein is gluten, and the immune system responds by damaging the small intestine.
Wheat allergy diagnosis involves a physical exam and discussion of your medical history. Your doctor will also ask about any symptoms you may have experienced related to wheat. To confirm a wheat allergy diagnosis, you doctor will perform additional tests and make additional recommendations such as tracking and/or eliminating food items containing wheat. During the diagnostic tests, your doctor will look for immunoglobulin E. This antibody binds to specific allergens and activates the release of histamine. Histamine is the cause of your allergic reaction symptoms.
Wheat allergy tests can include:
- Skin prick test – Your doctor will use a sterile probe to prick a small area of your skin. Next, your doctor will expose that area to a small amount of liquid that contains wheat protein.
- Blood test – In a blood test for a wheat allergy, doctors will gauge how your immune system responds to wheat proteins. They will measure the levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in your blood, which can indicate a possible wheat allergy.
- Oral food challenge – This is sometimes also called a wheat intolerance test. Your doctor will provide you with food items that contain wheat proteins and watch for an allergic reaction.
- Food tracking and elimination diet – As part of the diagnostic process, you may be asked to track the food you eat every day and keep a record of your symptoms. You may also be asked to eliminate certain foods and write down any changes to your symptoms.
Most children grow out of wheat allergies by the end of their teenage years, and usually by age 16. There are several management and treatment options for wheat allergies, making the prognosis for the condition optimistic.
Management & Treatment
The best way to prevent a wheat allergy is to avoid foods and food items that contain wheat. There is no wheat allergy cure. However, there are several wheat allergy treatments that can help you manage your condition.
Common management and wheat allergy treatment options include:
- Antihistamines can reduce the signs and symptoms of allergic reactions to wheat.
- Epinephrine can help treat anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction to wheat. You may want to carry an emergency epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency. We recommend that you also carry a backup injector and train several individuals in your life how to administer the treatment if you faint after being exposed to wheat.
- Read food labels to avoid accidently exposing yourself wheat or food where wheat is used as an ingredient.
- Read product labels, especially bathroom items and cosmetics that may be hidden sources of wheat proteins.
- Inform restaurant servers, chefs, friends, family, and anyone else who may be preparing a meal for you about your wheat allergy.
- Never consume food without knowing the ingredients or possible cross-contamination with wheat.
Some allergic reactions to wheat can be severe, even fatal. If you or a loved one experience any of the signs of a wheat allergy, the allergy specialists at Baptist Health may be able to help.
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