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An Insight into Wheat Allergy – Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Wheat allergy is the most prevalent form of food allergy. Infants and toddlers are more vulnerable to this allergy. According to the National Wheat Growers Association, almost 75% of grain products have wheat as an essential content.

What is Wheat Allergy?

Wheat allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to the wheat or products containing wheat as an ingredient.

Wheat or wheat flour is found in so many food products that managing the allergen present in wheat has almost become a challenging task. Wheat allergy is basically an over-reaction of the immune system to any of the following four classes of proteins found in wheat glutenin or gluten, gliadin, albumin and globulin. On ingesting food products containing wheat, a faulty immune system triggers an immune-specific reaction that outgrows as allergy. Wheat allergy can also result from an exposure to wheat, it is then known as a type of contact allergy.

Causes of wheat allergy

The primary function of our immune system is to protect our body from any kind of foreign particles. It does so by engulfing the foreign particle with specialized white blood cells and triggers the production of antibodies that can combat with the antigens.

At times, our immune system attacks wheat proteins perceiving them to be harmful pathogens and initiate the production of allergy causing antibodies. This immune response causes wheat allergy and every time wheat is ingested, the immune system becomes sensitive to the wheat protein and performs the same function to eliminate the allergen from the body.

People having a tendency to develop allergy against wheat have been found to be allergic to either one protein or more than one protein found in wheat. Till date, around 27 allergens belonging to the four classes of proteins in wheat have been discovered.

Wheat allergy is also triggered sometimes if a person does exercise right after consuming food that contains wheat. According to reports, exercise induces the immune response that ends up developing into fatal anaphylaxis symptom, which is life threatening in nature.

Wheat allergy also develops due to the occupational exposure to uncooked wheat. This is mainly seen among people working in bakeries. They usually show symptoms of asthma or difficulty in breathing.

Let us have a look at the whole range of foodstuffs that contain wheat:

Breakfast cereals, flour, pasta, bread, bulgur, bakery items, beer, donuts, gelatinized starch, ice-cream cones, dumplings, condiments, malted milk, natural flavorings, modified food starch, noodles, macaroni, spaghetti, waffles, cookies, crackers, hard candies, jelly beans, soy sauce, processed meats, salad dressing, sprouted wheat, wheat flour, wheat berries, wheat bran, vegetable gum, etc.

If I am allergic to wheat, can I be allergic to other foods?

If you are found positive to wheat allergy, there is a possibility that you might be allergic to oats, barley and rye. You may consult the doctor to figure out if you are allergic to any other grain besides wheat.

Wheat Allergy Symptoms

The symptoms of wheat allergy may differ from mild to life threatening ones. The initial symptoms show up within a few minutes to hours after consuming wheat based food product.

Mild symptoms of wheat allergy

Following are some of the mild symptoms that are likely to develop in a wheat allergy patient:

  1. Itching or tingling sensation in lips and mouth
  2. Swelling of the mouth
  3. Hives or rashes with itchiness and redness
  4. Swelling of skin
  5. Headache
  6. Nasal congestion
  7. Itchy and watery eyes
  8. Abdominal cramps
  9. Nausea or vomiting
  10. Diarrhea

These symptoms are mostly observed in infants. It has been reportedly found that they outgrow the allergy at an age of 3-5 years.

Anaphylaxis & Serious Symptoms

Some people generate an intense immune response to wheat allergens that lead to fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis shows some additional symptoms besides the general ones; it causes”

  1. A feeling of tightness in the throat
  2. Swelling of the throat
  3. Difficulty to breathe
  4. Fast heart beat
  5. Trouble swallowing
  6. Changing of the skin color to pale blue
  7. Dizziness
  8. Unconsciousness

Risk factors

It is extremely important for the people to be aware of the factors that increase the likelihood to develop wheat allergy. Let us discuss a few of them:

Age

Age is a significant risk factor for wheat allergy. Infants and toddlers are more susceptible to this form of allergy.

Although, some cases are found in adults, but the rate of occurrence is rare as compared to young children.

The primary reason is the immaturity of digestive and immune system in children. As the immune and digestive system undergo maturation, the risk of developing wheat allergy gradually dies down.

Family history

People who have someone in their family susceptible to wheat or any other allergy are at a higher risk of getting affected.

Other associated allergies

If you are allergic to wheat and other food products containing wheat, you might develop intolerance to other grains like barley, rye, oats, etc. However, there is a fair likeliness to be allergic to other grains.

Wheat pollen and grass allergies

Wheat allergens cross react with grass pollens to develop into another form of allergy. This is an occupational disease and hence found among people having direct exposure to these pollens and allergens. It is marked by respiratory disorders.

Derivative allergies

The smaller products of wheat protein hydrolysis are known as wheat protein hydrolysates, which on exposure might turn out into allergens. These are used in food additives and various cosmetic products. People might develop allergy after incorporating these products in daily use. This allergy outgrows as contact Urticaria.

Treatment of wheat allergy

The first and foremost commonly given advice is to avoid wheat and stuffs having wheat content. A wheat free diet can certainly be beneficial in this aspect.

Secondly, people are put under antihistamine medication to weaken down the immune system right after the consumption of wheat based diet.

People who are at a greater risk of being affected by anaphylaxis are recommended to carry two injectable doses of epinephrine (adrenaline) all the time along with them. It acts as a great help during emergency attacks and significantly works on normalizing the breathing rate as well as heartbeat.

Diet and nutrition

Since wheat is inherently present in so many food products, abandoning it completely is a daunting task. Yet it is advisable to be on wheat free diet to avoid the development of wheat allergy. Instead, one can choose to be on alternative cereals that are equally high on nutrition value.

Prevention

As we all know, prevention is better than cure; thus keep a strict vigil over the labels on food products before including them in your diet to ensure a hassle free life.

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