Wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to foods containing wheat. It's one of the more common food allergies in children. Wheat can be found in many foods, including some you might never suspect, such as breads, cakes, breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers, beer, soy sauce and condiments, such as ketchup.
Avoiding wheat is the primary treatment for wheat allergy. Medications may be necessary to manage allergic reactions when you accidentally eat wheat.
Wheat allergy may sometimes be confused with celiac disease, but these conditions are different. A wheat allergy generates an allergy-causing antibody to proteins found in wheat. But, one particular protein in wheat — gluten — causes an abnormal immune system reaction in the small intestines of people with celiac disease.
If you or your child has wheat allergy, you or your child will likely experience symptoms within a few minutes to a few hours after eating something containing wheat. Wheat allergy symptoms include:
Age of onset
When to see a doctor
If someone has signs of anaphylaxis, call 911 or your local emergency number. Emergency care is essential even if the person has just used an epinephrine shot.
If you suspect that you or your child is allergic to wheat or another food, see your doctor. A number of conditions can cause signs or symptoms associated with wheat allergy. So, an accurate diagnosis is important.
An allergic reaction is somewhat like a case of mistaken identity by your body's immune system. Normally, your immune system generates antibodies to protect your body against bacteria, viruses or toxic substances.
If you have wheat allergy, your body creates an allergy-causing antibody to a protein found in wheat. In other words, your immune system mistakenly identifies this protein as something that could harm you. Once your body develops an allergy-causing antibody to a particular agent (allergen) — in this case, a wheat protein — your immune system is sensitive to it. When you eat wheat, your immune system mounts an attack.
There are four different classes of proteins in wheat that can cause allergies: albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten. Any of them can cause an allergic reaction.
Sources of wheat proteins
If you have a wheat allergy, you may also be allergic to other grains with similar proteins. These related grains include:
Wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis
If you have exercise-related allergy to wheat, you may also experience an anaphylactic reaction when you eat or drink something with wheat and take aspirin or diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren) within a few hours.
The connection between these seemingly unrelated factors may be that exercise and aspirin use similar biological mechanisms to trigger an allergic reaction to wheat.
Certain factors may put you at greater risk of developing a wheat allergy:
Preparing for your appointment
See your doctor if you suspect that you or your child has wheat allergy or another allergy. You're likely to begin by seeing your family doctor or your child's pediatrician, but you may be referred to a specialist in allergies (allergist) for some diagnostic tests.
What you can do
Questions related to wheat allergy or other types of allergy may include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will likely use a combination of tests, including a physical exam, to make a diagnosis. Tests or diagnostic tools may include:
Treatments and drugs
The best treatment for wheat allergy is to avoid exposure to wheat proteins. Because wheat proteins appear in so many prepared foods, you'll need to read product labels carefully.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can take a number of steps to avoid exposure to wheat proteins and ensure prompt treatment when you're accidentally exposed to wheat.
Coping and support
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology provides links on its website to organizations that offer support groups for families dealing with allergies. Support groups, such as the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, can help you develop coping strategies, find sources for wheat-free products, and exchange recipes and other ideas to help you maintain a wheat-free diet.
Last Updated: 2011-07-07
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