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.


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.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.