People with wheat allergy are allergic to one or more proteins found in wheat. The body's immune system responds adversely when wheat or wheat products are eaten. Reactions may be ranging from mild to severe. Wheat allergy should not be confused with gluten allergy or intolerance to gluten. A food allergy shows up as an adverse reaction by the body's immune system. Gluten intolerance is a severe digestive disease which can cause damage to the intestine and hence can result in malnutrition.
An allergen is a substance which can be harmless to most of the people except when they do not have an affinity towards that substance. Wheat allergy involves immunoglobulin antibodies released from the immune system of the body which thinks that the one or more of the proteins in wheat or grain products is an invader meant to harm the body. The immune system is a defence mechanism of the body which restricts entry of virus, bacteria and other pathogens from entering the bloodstream by creating antibodies.
Wheat allergy in children will totally vanish when they reach their teenage years. The body's immune system would be stronger by then and can tolerate these foods. A wheat-free diet may be advised by the doctor or allergist where other grains such as corn, rice, barley, oats can be substituted.
Wheat bread, wheat bran, wheat malt, wheat sprouts, wheat grass, wheat starch and so on should all be avoided. Labels on any products you buy should be read carefully. Most of the sauce, bakery products, soups, cereals will have wheat to add bulk and should be avoided.
Symptoms of the allergy:
- Digestive problems – bloated stomach, gas formation, stomach pains, diarrhea, constipation
- Nausea, rashes on the body, vomiting
- Swelling of mouth and throat
- Watery eyes
- "Anaphylaxis" which is a life threatening allergic reaction – here the person affected will have gasping breath, drop in blood pressure, dizziness and inability to focus. This condition needs emergency medical attention and the patient should be admitted to the hospital immediately.
Family history and age of the person plays a major role in the case of allergy to wheat. Young children - since their immune system is still developing are at a risk of getting affected with wheat allergy when wheat is first introduced in their diet. As well, if either parent has any allergy, then the risk of developing the allergic reactions is also high.
An allergist is a doctor specialised in study and treatment of allergies. He should be approached even if there is a mild allergic reaction and consulted. He will check family medical history and conduct several tests to find the cause of the allergic reactions. He may advise keeping a food diary – on the food intake and the symptoms that show up after eating. He will then conduct a skin-prick test and a blood test to diagnose the allergy and the severity. In the skin-prick test, where small amounts of the culprit food are pushed into the bloodstream, if there is redness, swelling or itching, then the result is positive for allergy. A blood test is conducted to detect antibodies which indicate the likelihood of the allergy to that specific food.
An elimination diet will be advised by the doctor to totally avoid wheat and wheat products from the diet for a few weeks. Symptoms if any are checked periodically. The same food will be reintroduced slowly and again monitored. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, then the doctor can take a call on the treatment completely. Antihistamines may be prescribed for some time to eliminate or reduce the allergy symptoms.