Wheat Allergy

What is Wheat Allergy?

A wheat allergy is an immune reaction to foods and products that contain wheat. While many people do not realize it, wheat allergies are among the top ten food allergies in the United States today. This is an allergy issue that is more common among children than adults. Children under the age of three are most affected, and quite a few will outgrow the allergy during early childhood.  However, anyone can suffer from the condition.

When a person has a wheat allergy, it means that when they are exposed to wheat protein, their immune system reacts to the wheat protein in a negative way. Essentially, the immune system reacts to the wheat protein as it would an invading bacterium, virus, or other health-compromising agent. Because the immune system sees the wheat as dangerous, it immediately tries to expel it from the body, causing symptoms.

Wheat protein is found in numerous foods including bread, other baked goods as well as numerous processed food products like chips, pasta, soy sauce, modified food starch, candies, beer, and dairy products. There are four types of wheat protein and all can cause allergies. These include globulin, albumin, gluten, and gliadin.

What are the Symptoms of Wheat Allergy?

Symptoms of wheat allergies depend on the severity of the allergy. It can cause hives (raised red skin lesions), other skin rashes, mouth and throat irritation and swelling, as well as headaches. Other signs that a person has a wheat allergy are nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Eye irritation, nasal congestion, and trouble breathing can also occur. Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to wheat protein that can occur and involves the sudden swelling of the throat and breathing passages and is a serious, and life-threatening allergic reaction.

Wheat Allergy Causes

Wheat allergies occur when the immune system reacts abnormally to any proteins which are found in wheat. The immune system attempts to protect the body from the allergen by releasing a series of chemicals throughout the body; it is these which cause the symptoms associated with wheat allergies.

It is not completely clear why some people have wheat allergies and others do not. It is thought there is a genetic factor at play, as many people with wheat allergies have a family medical history of the same or different allergies or allergic diseases such as eczema or asthma. Wheat allergy tends to be more common in children than in adults, and this is because 65% of children outgrow it by the age of 12.

How is Wheat Allergy Treated?

The best form of treatment for a wheat allergy is to avoid wheat and wheat products entirely. This requires carefully reading all product labels and being diligent when eating out to avoid accidentally consuming wheat products. If skin reactions occur, cosmetics, lotions, and beauty products also need to be closely examined.

If exposure to wheat protein does occur, over-the-counter antihistamines can help control mild symptoms like congestion and eye irritation. For anaphylaxis, epinephrine is necessary through immediate injection. People with severe wheat allergies should carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them at all times in case of exposure. Following anaphylaxis medical monitoring and treatment in an emergency room or medical clinic is also necessary in case of continued reactions after the initial epinephrine injection wears off.

Wheat Allergy Prevention

Wheat allergies cannot necessarily be prevented, but it is possible to avoid symptoms of the allergy by avoiding wheat in foods, condiments, and cosmetics.

Some of the most common foods which could contain wheat include:

  • Bread and crackers
  • Cakes, muffins, and cookies
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pasta and couscous
  • Farina, semolina, and spelt
  • Soy sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Processed meats, such as hot dogs
  • Hard candies, licorice, and jelly beans
  • Some dairy products such as ice cream
  • Natural flavorings
  • Gelatinized starch, modified food starch, and vegetable gum

Wheat allergy is often confused with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but it’s important to note that people who are allergic to wheat will not be intolerant to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and many other grains.

Choosing gluten-free products may help you to avoid wheat, but it could mean that you are limiting your choices since it is safe to eat grains other than wheat that also contain gluten.

When choosing safe cosmetics, look out for the ingredient Triticum Vulgare, which is the scientific word for wheat, and Vitamin E which can sometimes by derived from wheat germ.

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 09, 2017