The Difference Between Celiac Disease and Wheat Allergy

When you hear of celiac disease and wheat allergy, you might think that they are the same. It’s a common misunderstanding. In truth, each of these conditions has unique causes and symptoms.

wheat allergies

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which discomforts the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. When people with celiac disease ingest gluten, the immune system starts to attack the small intestine. This depletes the villi—the little wisps that line and protect the intestine and promote proper absorption of nutrients.

Celiac disease can manifest through gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, gas, vomiting, and diarrhea. Long term, these can lead to weight loss, failure to thrive, and delayed growth and puberty. While kids tend to feel the gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac more profoundly, adults may feel the disease in different ways including bone or joint pain, fatigue, unexplained anemia, arthritis, depression or anxiety, migraines, skin rashes, and cankers.

  • Wheat allergy is different than celiac. It is characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to one of the proteins found in wheat. (Gluten is just one of the many proteins the body can be allergic to). When the body encounters wheat protein, it overreacts by spewing chemicals into the body that cause different symptoms:
  • Hay fever
  • Wheezing
  • Rash (eczema/hives)
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Anaphylactic reaction (rare but can be fatal)

Wheat allergy is more common in children than adults. Many children simply grow out of it by adolescence.

Treatment

The first step in finding relief from wheat allergy or celiac is to avoid wheat-related foods. Note, though, that wheat lurks in many foods including bread, breakfast cereal, soy sauce, some hot dogs and ice cream brands, and fried foods. One drawback of avoidance is that in dodging wheat-heavy foods, you may also eliminate foods that contain important vitamins and minerals.

While changing the body’s celiac response is not possible, there are more options for wheat allergy sufferers. Allergy shots have not been shown to be safe and effective for food allergy treatment, but an alternative known as sublingual immunotherapy has. Sublingual immunotherapy relies on sublingual allergy drops (rather than allergy shots) to deliver antigen to the bloodstream. The antigen can help your body develop an immunity to the food proteins (including those found in wheat) that once made you miserable. Many people who have tried sublingual immunotherapy drops for food allergy are able to restore wheat to their diet with minimal symptoms or no symptoms. Contact AllergyEasy for more information.