Wheat Allergy – Symptoms and Causes
Wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to foods containing wheat. Allergic reactions can be caused by eating wheat and also, in some cases, by inhaling wheat flour.
Avoiding wheat is the main treatment for wheat allergy, but it’s not always as easy as it seems. Wheat is found in many foods, including some you might not expect, such as soy sauce, ice cream, and hot dogs. Medication may be needed to manage allergic reactions if you accidentally eat wheat.
Wheat allergy is sometimes confused with celiac disease, but these conditions differ. Wheat allergy occurs when your body produces antibodies against proteins found in wheat. In celiac disease, a specific protein in wheat, gluten, causes another type of abnormal immune system reaction.
A child or adult with a wheat allergy is likely to develop signs and symptoms minutes to hours after eating something containing wheat. Wheat allergy signs and symptoms include:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth or throat
- Hives, itching or swelling of the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramps, nausea or vomiting
In some people, wheat allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Along with other wheat allergy signs and symptoms, anaphylaxis can cause:
- Swelling or tightness of the throat
- Chest pain or tightness
- Severe difficulty in breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pale blue skin color
- Dizziness or fainting
When to consult a doctor
If anyone shows signs of anaphylaxis, call 911 or your local emergency number. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate care.
If you think you or your child is allergic to wheat or any other food, talk to your doctor.
If you are allergic to wheat, exposure to a wheat protein primes your immune system for an allergic reaction. You can develop an allergy to any of the four classes of wheat protein – albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten.
Wheat Protein Sources
Some sources of wheat protein are obvious, like bread, but all wheat protein — and gluten in particular — can be found in many prepared foods and even some cosmetics, bath products, and modeling clay. Foods that may contain wheat protein include:
- Breads and breadcrumbs
- Cakes, muffins and cookies
- Breakfast cereals
- Plain flour
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Soya sauce
- Meat products, such as hot dogs
- Dairy products, such as ice cream
- Natural aromas
- Gelatinized starch
- Modified food starch
- vegetable gum
If you are allergic to wheat, you may also be allergic to barley, oats and rye. Unless you are allergic to grains other than wheat, the recommended wheat-free diet is less restrictive than a gluten-free diet.
Exercise-induced, wheat-dependent anaphylaxis
Some people with wheat allergy only develop symptoms if they exercise a few hours after eating wheat. Exercise-induced changes in your body trigger an allergic reaction or worsen an immune system response to a wheat protein. This condition usually results in life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Certain factors can put you at an increased risk of developing a wheat allergy:
- Family history. You are at increased risk of wheat or other food allergies if your parents have food allergies or other allergies, such as asthma.
- Age. Wheat allergy is more common in babies and toddlers, who have immature immune and digestive systems. Most children outgrow wheat allergy by age 16, but adults can develop it, often as cross-sensitivity to grass pollen.