Wheat Allergy

1 What is Wheat Allergy?

Wheat allergy is caused when the immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to wheat.

It is one of the most common form of food allergy. Allergic reactions result by eating wheat, wheat containing food and also by inhaling airborne particles of wheat flour.

As in other forms of food allergy, the symptoms range from mild to severe, life-threatening reactions. It is common among children, and most of them outgrow this allergy as they grow older.

In general, children who are allergic to wheat can tolerate other grains. In some rare cases, children with this condition may be allergic to other grains.

Avoiding wheat and wheat-containing products is the best treatment method. Accidental exposure to wheat is controlled by medications. 

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of wheat allergy appear within minutes of eating wheat.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Hives, itching of skin, eczema,
  • Swelling in lips, tongue, or throat,
  • Runny nose, congestion,
  • Difficulty in breathing,
  • Headache,
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea,
  • Vomiting,
  • Reddishness of skin,
  • Tingling in mouth.

Severe form of allergic reaction to wheat is called anaphylaxis. Anaphylactic reaction is characterized by:

  • Block or swelling in throat,
  • Difficulty in swallowing and breathing,
  • Bluish color of the skin,
  • Rapid pulse and heart beat,
  • Loss of consciousness,
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure.

Anaphylactic reaction requires immediate medical attention as it can be life-threatening.

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3 Causes

Allergic reaction is caused by an exaggerated response of the immune system to any of the proteins present in wheat.

Albumin, globulin, gliadin, and gluten are proteins that elicit an allergic reaction to wheat. On initial exposure to these proteins, the sensitive immune system produces antibodies against them. On further exposure the antibodies trigger the production of histamines. Histamines are chemicals responsible for typical symptoms of allergy.

Wheat as in bread is the most common source of allergens. But, wheat proteins may be found in many other food products like breakfast cereals, cakes, pasta, semolina, crackers, spelt, soy sauce, meat products, dairy products, jelly beans, and candies. Some people who are allergic to wheat are allergic to other grains like oats, barley, and rye.

In some people, symptoms of wheat allergy appear only if they exercise after eating wheat. The allergic reaction is caused by the changes in the body induced by physical activity. This condition is called as exercise-induced anaphylaxis. It may lead to anaphylactic reactions.

Having a family history of food allergy or hay fever increases the risk of developing wheat allergy. It is more common among small children who mostly outgrow it within few years. Some adults may develop it at a later stage.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of wheat allergy is done by performing several tests.

Timing of symptoms is the major indicator of wheat allergy. Doctors may perform a physical examination to rule out chances of any other condition that cause similar symptoms.

Skin test and blood test are also recommended to confirm this allergy.

Skin test

In this test, a patch of skin is exposed to small amounts of protein extract by pricking the skin with a probe. Inflammation of the skin in the test region within 15 minutes is a sign of wheat allergy. The skin prick is usually done in upper arm or upper back.

Blood test

This test is recommended if skin test cannot be performed due to some reason like drug interaction. Blood test is used to measure the amount of specific antibodies against the suspected allergen. Increased levels of antibodies indicate wheat allergy. It also gives a measure of sensitivity to the allergen.

In elimination diet, some of the common allergens in food is eliminated in the diet to see the reaction of the body. Gradually adding foods back help to see which specific food causes the symptoms. Reaction of the body to particular food allergen is also observed by taking small doses of suspected food. The symptoms are continuously monitored.

5 Treatment

The best treatment for wheat allergy, as in other forms of food allergy, is strict avoidance of wheat and wheat-containing food products.

Medications are recommended to alleviate the symptoms of allergic reaction.

Antihistamines block the action of histamines that cause allergic symptoms. These medications are taken after an exposure to allergen to reduce the symptoms.

Anaphylactic reactions are controlled by emergency epinephrine shots. Injectable epinephrine doses are now available which can be carried around to prevent a medical emergency.

6 Prevention

Avoiding wheat and wheat-containing products is the best way to prevent wheat allergy.

Wheat proteins may be found in many food products like breakfast cereals, cakes, pasta, semolina, crackers, spelt, soy sauce, meat products, dairy products, jelly beans, and candies.

Using substitute grains helps to prevent allergic reaction to wheat. 

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies used for controlling symptoms of wheat allergy include:

  • Berberis Vulgaris,
  • Copavia Officinalis,
  • Lycopodium,
  • Natrum Mur,
  • Natrum Sulph,
  • Carbo Animalis,
  • Carbo Veg,
  • Causticum,
  • Iris,
  • Kali Act,
  • Kali Carb,
  • Lachesis,
  • Plumbum Met,
  • Pulsatilla.

Herbal supplements and ayurvedic medicines are also suggested for reducing allergic symptoms. 

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with wheat allergy.

Let others know of the allergy so that one can choose food carefully.

Wearing a medical bracelet is one of the way to reach out to others for treatment.

Be vigilant while reading labels as many products have wheat, although not mentioned in the label. Opt for gluten-free food. While dining out inform the host or hotel about the allergy. 

9 Risks and Complications

Anaphylactic reaction caused by wheat is the most important complication of wheat allergy. 

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