Wheat is a main component of the diet and part of the grass family. Many individuals experience allergic reactions to wheat but not all reactions are considered as an actual allergy. The common reactions include immediate allergy to wheat, delayed allergy to wheat, delayed allergy to gluten (Celiac disease) and intolerance to wheat.
Immediate allergy to wheat
An immediate-type allergy to wheat is triggered by an IgE reaction to one or more of the proteins present in wheat such as globulins, albumins, gliadins and glutenins.
The allergic reactions to wheat and other cereals are quite common among infants and typically resolve within the first few years of life. The symptoms of wheat allergy include asthma, rhinitis, urticaria, conjunctivitis and angioedema. The individual will also develop loose feces, worsening of eczema and abdominal pain.
In some individuals, they only experience the symptoms after exercise. These reactions are often severe in nature and called as exercise-induced anaphylaxis to wheat. The symptoms are asthma-like and are also known to occur among those who work in bakeries due to the inhalation of flour.
Delayed allergy to wheat
In some children with eczema, they can eat wheat-based foods without any evident immediate reaction but continue to develop significant worsening of the skin symptoms, usually within 24-48 hours.
Occasionally, the delayed reactions occur after the food was consumed regularly over several days, resulting to eczema or oftentimes diarrhea or poor weight gain. In such cases, a skin prick test is often negative and a diagnosis rests on temporary elimination diet followed by food challenges under medical supervision.
Celiac disease is a lifelong intolerance to gliaden which is part of the gluten proteins that are present in the grain of wheat, barley and rye. Take note that gluten provides elasticity to baked goods and the distinctive chewy texture of several breads.
Individuals with celiac disease possess antibodies to gliadin which triggers an immune reaction that results to damage to the small intestines. The antibodies that are involved are a different class to the IgE antibody that causes the usual food allergy. The symptoms of celiac disease vary from one individual to another and include the following:
- Abdominal pain and cramping, bloating and nausea
- Mouth ulcers
- Changes in bowel habits
- Fatigue and diminished level of energy
- Severe type of skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
- Joint and bone pain with or without osteoporosis
- Poor weight gain in children or weight loss in some adults
- Pins-and-needles sensation
- Repeated miscarriages and infertility
Wheat intolerance is different from celiac disease since it has poorly defined set of symptoms that vary from one individual to another. The symptoms tend to include nausea, abdominal discomfort, bloating, tiredness and altered bowel habit. This is not triggered by an immune reaction and while the symptoms can be unpleasant, it cannot trigger life-threatening reactions unlike with the true wheat allergies.