What is wheat allergy?

What is wheat allergy?

Wheat allergy is the body’s excessive immunological response to wheat.

Wheat allergy can take various forms. In contrast to a grass allergy, it is not the wheat pollen that triggers the wheat allergy, but rather the proteins in the wheat. Especially during childhood, wheat is one of the main allergens. In most cases, however, the wheat allergy resolves itself by the time the child reaches school age. Wheat allergies in adults tend to be permanent, however, and are triggered only in conjunction with physical exertion (wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis, WDEIA) or in the form of baker’s asthma, which is triggered when the individual inhales the allergens in wheat flour. 

Symptoms of wheat allergy

The primary symptoms of a wheat allergy manifest themselves on the skin and in the respiratory tract, often directly after meals. It may also cause indigestion, however, which may occur after a delay.

Possible symptoms:

  • In the mouth, nose, eyes and throat: swelling, itching or a scratchy feeling
  • On the skin: atopic dermatitis or urticaria (hives)
  • In the lung: respiratory distress, asthma or baker’s asthma
  • In the intestinal tract: cramps, nausea, vomiting, bloating or diarrhoea

Diagnosing wheat allergy

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As with other allergies, the symptoms of wheat allergy should be recorded in a food and symptom diary. The next step involves a test for specific IgE antibodies and a skin prick test. If the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of coeliac disease, in other words, if symptoms such as abdominal cramping, diarrhoea or nausea occur after consuming wheat, it is important to exclude coeliac disease before proceeding further. In order not to distort the diagnosis, you should not change over to a wheat-free or gluten free diet until the condition has been diagnosed.

Treating wheat allergy

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The main treatment for wheat allergy involves a change in diet. Once the allergy specialist has unequivocally diagnosed wheat allergy, you must eliminate wheat and related types of cereals from your diet. Keep in mind that wheat is hidden in many processed foods in which you would not suspect this is the case. For instance, rye bread can also contain wheat. Gluten free products are not the same as wheat-free products, because they may contain gluten free wheat starch, which is unsuitable for people with wheat allergy. For this reason, you must always read the label before purchasing a product or ask the sales staff about the exact ingredients.

In order to ensure that your diet is balanced despite your change in diet and to familiarise yourself with alternatives for cooking and baking, it is a good idea to take advantage of nutritional counselling.

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Are you a physician or nutritional specialist? You will find more detailed information on wheat allergy at Dr. Schär Institute, the knowledge platform for experts on the topic of gluten intolerance and the gluten free diet.