What is a Gluten Allergy?
Gluten allergies occur when you are allergic to the protein gluten, a main component of wheat. Wheat gluten allergies are less widespread than some of the other food allergies, such as allergies to peanuts, milk, or eggs, but may affect up to 1% of children in the general population (Poole, 2006). Usually, symptoms of gluten allergies include gastrointestinal distress (gas, bloating, diarrhea) and may also include rashes, sneezing, runny nose, and problems breathing. Severe allergic reactions to gluten can be life threatening.
An allergy is a fast response by your body to a particular substance, like wheat gluten. Food allergies are relatively uncommon, unlike food sensitivity, which is more widespread. A food allergy is an inappropriate response your body makes to fight off a “foreign invader,” in this case gluten; this is unlike a food sensitivity in which your body just can’t process a certain food, producing gas and intestinal discomfort.
How do I know I have a gluten or wheat allergy?
Diagnosing a gluten allergy is usually relatively easy, as a person allergic to gluten will have a reaction soon after eating food that contains gluten. A skin prick test by your doctor can confirm the presence of a gluten allergy.
How do you treat gluten allergies?
The best way to “treat” gluten allergies is to avoid foods containing wheat gluten. Unfortunately for those suffering from wheat gluten allergies, gluten is found in many food products, even those that may not seem obvious. Clearly, food such as cereal, breads, pasta, and cookies contain gluten. Other foods, such as ice cream, hot dogs, lunchmeats, and even some chocolate contain hidden gluten in the form of fillers and thickeners. For those with extreme wheat gluten allergies, even toothpaste and lipstick can contain hidden dangers.
Traditionally, it was thought that avoiding allergenic foods during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and early childhood could prevent or minimize allergies to food. Unfortunately, recent analysis of allergy trends among the general population shows no conclusive evidence that allergen avoidance actually works (Lack, 2008).
As research continues on food allergies in general, and wheat gluten allergies in particular, our understanding of how allergies are triggered and what we can do to stop them will lead to better treatments, and possibly cures, for those suffering from allergies.
Poole JA, Barriga K, Leung DYM, et al. Timing of initial exposure to cereal grains and the risk of wheat allergy. Pediatrics. 2006: 117:2175-2182.
Lack G. Epidemiologic risks for food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008: 121: 1331-1336.