Types of Allergies: Wheat Allergy

By Spader, Catherine, RN

If you have a wheat allergy and the aroma of fresh baked bread makes your mouth water, take heart. You can safely enjoy many of your favorite foods by learning the essentials about wheat allergy and safe wheat alternatives.

How Will I Know If I Have a Wheat Allergy?

You might suspect that you, or your child, have a wheat allergy if you have any of these symptoms within a few minutes to a few hours after eating foods that contain wheat:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Hives, which are areas of welts or swelling

  • Itchy skin rash

  • Loose, runny stools or diarrhea

  • Nasal congestion

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Painful stomach cramps

  • Tightness or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips

Your doctor can determine if you have a wheat allergy or another condition that has similar symptoms. These include celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an uncommon autoimmune disorder that causes intestinal damage in response to gluten. Gluten sensitivity is a difficulty digesting gluten. It is far more common and a less serious condition than either wheat allergy or celiac disease.

Your doctor will evaluate your medical history, eating habits, and symptoms and perform a physical exam. Tests may include a blood test to check for antibodies that cause allergies and skin testing. Skin testing involves placing small drops of wheat proteins under your skin and watching for a reaction. A positive reaction appears as a red, puffy bump where the liquid was applied.

Who Gets a Wheat Allergy?

Wheat allergy is one of the most common childhood food allergies, but it is unusual in adults and teens. It usually develops in infants and toddlers and is generally outgrown by school-age. Your child is more likely to have a wheat allergy if you or a member of your family has allergies.

What Foods Should I Avoid If I Have a Wheat Allergy?

You will find wheat in many foods, such as in cereals, breads, crackers, and baked goods. Wheat also occurs in many unexpected places. These include certain types of gravy, beer, imitation seafood, soy sauces and condiments, and Asian meat dishes.

To avoid an allergic reaction, you will need to carefully read food labels and ask about ingredients in foods when eating out to avoid any ingredient that contains the word wheat such as:

  • Wheat bran

  • Wheat flour

  • Wheat germ

  • Wheat grass

Many types of flours should be avoided including:

  • All-purpose flour

  • Enriched flour

  • High protein flour

  • Self-rising flour

Other foods or ingredients that can trigger a wheat allergy include:

  • Any type of starch such as modified starch

  • Bulgur, couscous, durum, farina, semolina and spelt

  • Glucose syrup

  • Gluten

  • Malt

  • Matzoh, matzo, or matza

  • Vegetable gum, vegetable starch, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein

What Are Some Good Wheat Substitutes?

Even with a wheat allergy, you can eat a varied diet that includes breads and baked goods. The following grains and their flours are generally safe substitutes for wheat in cooking and baking:

  • Amaranth

  • Arrowroot starch

  • Corn

  • Potato starch flour

  • Quinoa

  • Rice

  • Soy

  • Tapioca

Some people with wheat allergies can also eat oats, barley and rye. However, you will need to avoid these grains and their flours if you have an allergy to gluten or a problem digesting gluten, such as gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in these grains as well as in wheat. In addition, the grains kamut and spelt are similar to wheat and not safe wheat alternatives.

People with wheat allergies often have other food allergies so it is important to check with your doctor before substituting any grains for wheat.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

You should call your doctor if you, or your child, have mild symptoms after eating wheat, such as a stomach ache or nasal congestion.

If you are diagnosed with a serious wheat allergy, you may want to carry injectable epinephrine in case of accidental exposure to wheat. For sudden swelling, dizziness, passing out, or trouble breathing, inject your epinephrine medication as directed. Call 911 even if your symptoms improve.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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