About Wheat Allergy
When someone is allergic to wheat, the body's immune system, which normally fights infections, overreacts to proteins in the wheat. When the person eats something made with wheat, the body thinks that these proteins are harmful invaders.
The immune system responds by working very hard to fend off the invader. This causes an allergic reaction, in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body. The release of these chemicals can cause someone to have these symptoms:
- trouble breathing
- throat tightness
- itchy, watery, or swollen eyes
- red spots
- a drop in blood pressure, causing lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
Allergic reactions to wheat can differ. Sometimes the same person can react differently at different times. Some reactions can be very mild and involve only one system of the body, like hives on the skin. Other reactions can be more severe and involve more than one part of the body.
Wheat Allergy and Celiac Disease Are Different
An allergy to wheat involves an allergic response to a protein in wheat. Gluten is one of the wheat proteins that can cause an allergic reaction. Gluten is also involved in a condition called celiac disease.
It's easy to confuse celiac disease with wheat allergy, but they are very different. Celiac disease does not cause an allergic reaction. With celiac disease, there is a different type of immune system response in the intestines, causing a problem with the absorption of food.
While people with wheat allergy can usually eat other grains, people with celiac disease cannot eat any food containing gluten. Gluten can be found in other grains such as barley, rye, and sometimes oats.
Anaphylaxis Is a Life-Threatening Reaction
Wheat allergy can cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can begin with milder symptoms, but then can quickly worsen, leading to someone having trouble breathing or passing out. If it is not treated, anaphylaxis can be life threatening.
If your child has been diagnosed with a life-threatening wheat allergy (or any kind of life-threatening food allergy), the doctor will want him or her to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency.
An epinephrine auto-injector is a prescription medicine that comes in an easy-to-carry container about the size of a large marker. It's simple to use. If your child needs to have it on hand, your doctor will show you how to use it.
Kids who are old enough can be taught how to give themselves the injection. If they are responsible for carrying the epinephrine, it should be nearby, not locked in a locker or in the nurse's office.
Wherever your child is, adult caregivers should always know where the epinephrine is, have easy access to it, and know how to give the shot. Staff at your child's school should know about the allergy and have an action plan in place. Your child's rescue medications (such as epinephrine) should be accessible at all times.
If your child starts having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth or throat or difficulty breathing, give the epinephrine auto-injector right away. Seconds count during an episode of anaphylaxis. Then call 911 or take your child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision because even if the worst seems to have passed, it's common for a second wave of serious symptoms to occur.
It's also a good idea to carry an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine for your child as this can help treat mild allergy symptoms. Use antihistamines after — not as a replacement for — the epinephrine shot during life-threatening reactions.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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