What is wheat allergy?
An allergen is a substance that is harmless to most people, unless they have an allergy to it. An allergic reaction to wheat involves IgE (immunoglobulin) antibodies reacting to at least one of the following proteins found in wheat:
- Glutenin, or gluten.
Most allergic reactions involve albumin and globulin. Allergy to gliadin and gluten are less common. Gluten allergy is often confused with celiac disease and other digestive disorders.
Some people have an allergic reaction when they inhale wheat flour, while in others, eat it triggers symptoms. An allergic reaction can occur within minutes or sometimes hours of either consuming or inhaling wheat.
How common is wheat allergy?
Wheat allergy is very common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of wheat allergy?
The common symptoms of wheat allergy are:
- Allergic rhinitis, or nasal congestion
- Atopic dermatitis, known as eczema
- Urticaria, or hives, an itchy rash with possible swelling of the skin
- Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting
- Irritation and possible swelling of the mouth, throat, or both
- Watery, itchy eyes
- Bloated stomach.
Anaphylaxis may occur, leading to:
- Swelling and tightness in the throat and difficulty swallowing
- Tightness and pain in the chest and difficulty breathing
- Pale or bluish skin, weak pulse and a serious, possibly life-threatening, drop in blood pressure.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes wheat allergy?
If you have wheat allergy, 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 proteins — albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten.
Sources of wheat proteins
Some sources of wheat proteins are obvious, such as bread, but all wheat proteins — and gluten in particular — can be found in many prepared foods and even in some cosmetics, bath products and play dough. Foods that may include wheat proteins include:
- Breads and bread crumbs
- Cakes and muffins
- Breakfast cereals
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Soy sauce
- Some condiments, such as ketchup
- Meat products, such as hot dogs or cold cuts
- Dairy products, such as ice cream
- Natural flavorings
- Gelatinized starch
- Modified food starch
- Vegetable gum
- Jelly beans
- Hard candies
If you have a wheat allergy, you might also be allergic to barley, oats and rye — but the chance is slim. If you’re not allergic to grains other than wheat, a wheat-free diet is less restrictive than a gluten-free diet.
Wheat-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis
Some people with a wheat allergy develop symptoms only if they exercise within a few hours after eating wheat. Exercise-induced changes in your body either trigger an allergic reaction or worsen an immune system response to a wheat protein. This condition usually results in life-threatening anaphylaxis.
What increases my risk for wheat allergy?
There are many risk factors for wheat allergy, such as:
- Family history. You’re at increased risk of allergy to wheat or other foods if your parents have food allergies or other allergies, such as hay fever.
- Wheat allergy is most common in babies and toddlers, who have immature immune and digestive systems. Most children outgrow wheat allergy, but adults can develop it, often as a cross-sensitivity to grass pollen.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is wheat allergy diagnosed?
It is important to get an accurate diagnosis of wheat allergy, so that you can avoid appropriate foods and rule out other conditions such as celiac disease. An allergist will typically diagnose a wheat allergy.
To diagnose a wheat allergy, your allergist will ask you questions about your symptoms and family history to determine whether or not allergies are common in your bloodline.
Because the symptoms of a wheat allergy can overlap with the symptoms of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your doctor will perform specific diagnostic tests to rule out these conditions and determine that you have wheat allergy. The diagnostic test will either be a skin-prick test, a blood test, or both.
In a skin-prick test, your doctor will inject a small amount of purified wheat protein under the surface of your skin, usually on your forearm or upper back. If the injection site becomes red or swollen, a wheat allergy will be confirmed.
Wheat allergy can also be diagnosed through a blood test. Your doctor will draw a small sample of your blood and test for the specific antibodies that have developed against wheat in your immune system. There is a different blood test that can test specifically for celiac disease.
How is wheat allergy treated?
The best treatment is to avoid wheat proteins, but this can be difficult, as so many foods contain wheat. It is important to check food labels.
Antihistamines lower the patient’s immune system, eliminating or reducing the symptoms of allergy. These should be taken after exposure to wheat. Antihistamine should be used under the guidance of a physician.
Epinephrine, or adrenaline, is an emergency treatment for anaphylaxis. Patients at high risk of anaphylaxis should carry two injectable doses of epinephrine. The medication is administered as an auto-injector pen straight onto the skin.
One pen contains a single dose of adrenaline, which can be injected into the body through a concealed spring-loaded needle. Examples include the EpiPen and the Anapen. Adrenaline opens the airways, helping the patient to breathe more easily. It also helps to restore severely low blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage wheat allergy?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with wheat allergy:
- Keep others informed. If your child has wheat allergy, make sure that anyone who takes care of your child, including the principal, teachers and nurse at school, know about the allergy and the signs of wheat exposure. If your child carries epinephrine, make sure school personnel know how to use the pen, if necessary, and that they need to contact emergency care immediately. Inform friends, relatives and co-workers of your own food allergy.
- Wear a bracelet. A medical identification bracelet that describes the allergy and need for emergency care can help if you experience anaphylaxis and can’t communicate.
- Always read labels. Don’t trust that a product is free of what you can’t eat until you read the label. Wheat proteins, especially gluten, are used as food thickeners, and they appear in many unexpected places. Also, don’t assume that once you’ve used a certain brand of a product, that it’s always safe. Ingredients change.
- Shop for gluten-free foods. Some specialty stores and supermarkets offer gluten-free foods, which are safe for people with wheat allergies. However, they may also be free of grains that you can eat, so sticking to gluten-free foods may limit your diet for no reason.
- Consult wheat-free cookbooks. Cookbooks specializing in recipes without wheat can help you cook safely and enable you to enjoy baked goods and other foods made with substitutes for wheat.
- Dine out cautiously. Tell restaurant staff about your allergy and how serious it can be if you eat anything with wheat. Order simple dishes prepared with fresh foods. Avoid foods that may have hidden sources of wheat proteins, such as sauces, or deep-fried foods that may be cooked with other foods containing wheat.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: December 18, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019
Wheat allergy. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wheat-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20378897. Accessed December 18, 2017.
What is Wheat Allergy? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/174405.php. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Symptoms of a Wheat Allergy. https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/wheat. Accessed December 18, 2017.