Wheat Allergy – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come out with a list of 8 most common food allergens. Wheat makes it to the list of these offenders.

Wheat allergy

is an extremely common food allergy in children and is basically an adverse reaction manifested by a hypersensitive immune system. However, adults too suffer from the said allergy.

Food allergies affect more than 6% of young children and more than 4% of adults in the United States of America. The good news is that most children outgrow this allergy by adolescence. It is extremely important to be super cautious when you have this allergy. Any food containing traces of wheat or substances derived from wheat like malt, cereal, bran etc. is likely to trigger allergic reactions.


What causes wheat allergy?

This particular allergy is an adverse immune response of the body to the proteins in wheat. The proteins in wheat known to cause allergies are gluten, gliadin, globulin and albumin. Gluten is the most commonly known wheat protein to cause allergic reactions. It is what causes the bread made from wheat to have the soft and chewy texture.

The body considers the above proteins as a threat and responds by producing antibodies, namely, Immunoglobulin antibodies (IgE). These antibodies bind with the protein and trigger the mast cells in the skin, gut and pharynx. The mast cells release the chemical histamine which is causes the adverse physical reactions. Histamine dilates the blood vessels causing inflammation. It causes skin reactions by irritating nerve endings beneath the skin. When wheat proteins remain undigested and are not broken down by the gastric enzymes it could cause gastric distress.

What are the symptoms of wheat induced allergy?


The symptoms generally appear within a few minutes to a few hours of having any food containing wheat. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Skin reactions like contact dermatitis, hives, eczema etc can appear on skin.
  • Angioedema or swelling of mouth, lips and face.
  • Red, watery and itchy eyes.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Cramps, nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Anaphylaxis, or an extreme medical urgency which is characterized by shortness of breath and wheezing due to inflammation of airways, confusion, rapid heart rate, loss of consciousness etc.

What are the different sources of the wheat protein?

Anything made from wheat flour is a source of the said protein. All purpose flour is also derived from enriched and treated wheat grains. So irrespective of the fact, whether your bread looks white or brown, it is a source of wheat protein. Cereals, couscous, semolina, spelt, beer, soy sauce, tomato ketchup, dairy products etc are the other unsuspected sources. It is important to understand that other whole grains like rye, oat and barley are also sources of gluten.

What are the diseases induced by wheat protein allergy?

Apart from the above discussed symptoms, certain conditions are linked to wheat protein sensitivity. The conditions are as follows:

  • Exercise induced anaphylaxis following consumption of wheat

    : Consuming wheat products and exercising within a few hours of that have been documented to cause anaphylaxis in some cases. The changes experienced in the body after the workout triggers the sensitivity to the consumed wheat proteins.
    Taking aspirin shortly after eating any wheat containing product has also been seen to trigger an auto immune response in the body.

  • Bakers Asthma

    : This disease refers to the sensitivity faced to uncooked and dry flour. Inhaling dry flour as bakers would often do, results in the adverse reactions. Eating cooked wheat protein do not cause any problem in this case.

  • Celiac disease

    : Celiac disease is the sensitivity to the wheat protein, gluten chiefly. Undigested gluten causes a malabsorption disorder in the intestine. This condition is referred to as Celiac disease.

Treatment of Wheat Allergy

  • The first step would involve eliminating the said proteins from diet.
  • Antihistamines can bring in relief from symptoms by negating the effect of the excess histamine in the body.
  • Corticosteroids can bring in effective relief too. But they are not meant for long term use.
  • To deal with an anaphylactic shock, it is imperative that an emergency dose of epinephrine be administered.

Prevention of wheat induced allergy

  • Read labels well. An unsuspected wheat protein may be found in a lot of foods.
  • If your child is allergic to wheat, inculcate a habit of inspecting first and then eating. Inform the school and other teachers of the child’s allergies.
  • Insist on knowing the ingredients whenever you are eating out.
  • If you have a history of wheat induced anaphylactic reactions, wear a medical identification bracelet which could help the paramedic help you in a state of unconsciousness.

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