Health A-Z

Wheat Allergy

Clinical Definition

Wheat allergy occurs when the immune system responds in a defensive way to wheat gluten and other proteins. On ingestion, the immune system begins to create specific IgE antibodies against the offending protein. On subsequent consumption, the antibodies bind their target(s), which triggers release of histamines and other chemical signals from immune cells, potentially adversely affecting the respiratory system, GI tract, skin and cardiovascular system in the process. Tongue edema, vomiting, urticaria and anaphylaxis can occur. Skin tests or blood tests help with diagnosis. Treatment may include a special diet or the use of skin creams, antihistamines, corticosteroids and epinephrine.

In Our Own Words

Wheat allergy occurs when the body reacts adversely to consumption of wheat proteins, including wheat gluten. Various proteins in addition to gluten are implicated in wheat allergy, and there may or may not be problems with other grains. Symptoms occur minutes to hours after exposure in an allergic person. Skin rash, hives, swelling, and a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can occur. Wheat allergy is unlike Crohn’s disease in that there is no autoimmune attack on the small intestine.

The diagnosis is made by doing a skin test. Wheat allergy diets, or gluten-free diets, can be followed. If skin rashes occur, creams can help. Other options are antihistamines to reduce itching and corticosteroids to reduce swelling that may occur. For serious reactions, epinephrine can be given.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Tongue or throat swelling
  • Hives
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe allergy reaction (anaphylaxis)

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