When someone is allergic to wheat, the body's immune system, which normally fights infections, overreacts to proteins in the wheat. When the person eats something made with wheat, the body thinks that these proteins are harmful invaders.
The immune system responds by working very hard to fight off the invader. This causes an allergic reaction, in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body. The release of these chemicals can cause someone to have these symptoms:
Allergic reactions to wheat can differ. Sometimes the same person can react differently at different times. Some reactions can be very mild and involve only one system of the body, like hives on the skin. Other reactions can be more severe and involve more than one part of the body.
An allergy to wheat involves an allergic response to a protein in wheat. Gluten is one of the wheat proteins that can cause an allergic reaction. Gluten is also involved in a condition called celiac disease.
It's easy to confuse celiac disease with wheat allergy, but they are very different. Celiac disease does not cause an allergic reaction. With celiac disease, there is a different type of immune system response in the intestines, causing a problem with the absorption of food.
While people with wheat allergy can usually eat other grains, people with celiac disease cannot eat any food containing gluten, which is also found in other grains such as barley, rye, and sometimes oats.
Wheat allergy can cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can begin with milder symptoms, but then can quickly worsen, leading to someone having trouble breathing or passing out. If it is not treated, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
If your child has been diagnosed with a life-threatening wheat allergy (or any kind of life-threatening food allergy), the doctor will want him or her to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency.
An epinephrine auto-injector is a prescription medicine that comes in an easy-to-carry container about the size of a large marker. It's simple to use. If your child needs to have it on hand, your doctor will show you how to use it.
Kids who are old enough can be taught how to give themselves the injection. If they are responsible for carrying the epinephrine, it should be nearby, not locked in a locker or in the nurse's office.
Wherever your child is, adult caregivers should always know where the epinephrine is, have easy access to it, and know how to give the shot. Staff at your child's school should know about the allergy and have an action plan in place. Your child's rescue medications (such as epinephrine) should be accessible at all times.
If your child starts having serious allergic symptoms, like swelling of the mouth or throat or difficulty breathing, give the epinephrine auto-injector right away. Seconds count during an episode of anaphylaxis. Then call 911 or take your child to the emergency room. Your child needs to be under medical supervision because even if the worst seems to have passed, it's common for a second wave of serious symptoms to happen.
It's also a good idea to carry an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine for your child as this can help treat mild allergy symptoms. Use antihistamines after — not as a replacement for — the epinephrine shot during life-threatening reactions.
If allergy testing shows that your child has a wheat allergy, the doctor will provide guidelines on how to stay safe. Wheat allergy is more common in kids than adults, and many children seem to "outgrow" their wheat allergy over time.
But if your your child has wheat allergy, he or she must completely avoid products made with wheat. Although most allergic reactions to wheat occur after eating a wheat product, sometimes people can react to raw wheat that they breathe in (such as a baker who inhales flour in the workplace).
Natural food stores and the health food section in grocery stores usually have safe alternatives, including wheat-free breads, crackers, and breakfast cereals. Also, look for substitute flours made from potato, rice, soy, barley, oats, and corn.
For detailed information, visit food allergy websites, such as the Food Allergy Research and Education network (FARE), or others that your doctor recommends.
Manufacturers of foods sold in the United States must state in understandable language whether foods contain any of the top eight most common allergens: wheat, milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy.
The label will include "wheat" in the ingredient list or say "Contains wheat" after the list. This label requirement makes things a little easier. But you still may want to learn the names of some common ingredients, such as durum, that mean wheat.
Cross-contamination means that the allergen is not one of the ingredients in a product, but might have contaminated it during production or packaging. Companies are not required to label for cross-contamination risk, though some voluntarily do so. You may see advisory statements such as "May contain wheat," "Processed in a facility that also processes wheat," or "Manufactured on equipment also used for wheat."
Since products without precautionary statements also might be cross-contaminated and the company simply chose not to label for it, it is always best to contact the company to see if the product could contain wheat. You might find this information on the company's website or you can contact a company representative via email.
It's also important to remember that "safe" foods could become unsafe if food companies change ingredients, processes, or production locations.
When your child eats in a restaurant or at a friend's house, find out how foods are cooked and exactly what's in them. It can be hard to ask a lot of questions about cooking methods, and to trust the information you get. If you can't be certain that a food is wheat-free, it's best to bring safe food from home.
Watch for cross-contamination, as wheat can get into a food product because it is made or served in a place that uses wheat in other foods. This can happen on kitchen surfaces and utensils — everything from knives and cutting boards to a toaster or grill. Fried foods often have the potential to be cross-contaminated, because they can be fried in the same oil as foods that contain wheat.
Also talk to the staff at school about cross-contamination risks in the cafeteria. It may be best to pack lunches at home so you can control what's in them.
Here are some other precautions to take:
Reviewed by: Jordan C. Smallwood, MD
Date reviewed: September 2015
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The ACAAI is an organization of allergists-immunologists and health professionals dedicated to quality patient care. Contact them at: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology|
85 W. Algonquin Road
Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
|Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) works on behalf of the 15 million Americans with food allergies, including all those at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis.|
|Egg Allergy Living with an egg allergy means you have to be aware of what you're eating and read food labels carefully. Here are some tips for teens who have an egg allergy.|
|Food Allergies and Travel Taking precautions and carrying meds are just part of normal life for someone who has a food allergy. Here are some tips on how to make travel also feel perfectly routine.|
|Food Allergies Doctors are diagnosing more and more people with food allergies. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with food allergies can make a big difference in preventing serious illness.|
|Food Allergies Struggling with strawberries? Petrified of peanuts? Sorry you ate shellfish? Maybe you have a food allergy. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Food Allergies: How to Cope With food allergies, preventing a reaction means avoiding that food entirely. But sometimes allergens can be hidden in places you don't expect. Here are tips on living with a food allergy.|
|Going to School With Food Allergies With preparation and education, a child with a food allergy can stay safe at school.|
|Celiac Disease Kids who have celiac disease, a disorder that makes their bodies react to gluten, can't eat certain kinds of foods. Find out more - including what foods are safe and where to find them.|
|Celiac Disease People who have celiac disease, a disorder that makes their bodies react to gluten, can't eat certain kinds of foods. Find out more - including what foods are safe and where to find them.|
|Nut and Peanut Allergy If your child is allergic to nuts or peanuts, it's essential to learn what foods might contain them and how to avoid them.|
|Food Allergies Food allergies can cause serious and even deadly reactions in kids, so it's important to know how to feed a child with food allergies and to prevent reactions.|
|Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) Kids with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The good news is it can be prevented and treated.|
|Shellfish Allergy Shellfish allergy can cause serious reactions. Find out common symptoms of allergic reactions and how to respond.|
|Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities Find more than 30 articles in English and Spanish about all aspects of food allergies in children.|
|Milk Allergy Milk is in all kinds of foods, even things like baked goods. So what should a person who's allergic to milk do?|
|Milk Allergy in Infants Almost all infants are fussy at times. But some are excessively fussy because they have an allergy to the protein in cow's milk, which is the basis for most commercial baby formulas.|
|Shellfish Allergy Shellfish allergies can be serious - and shellfish can appear in some surprising foods and products. Read about shellfish allergy and what to do when a reaction is severe.|
|Healthy Eating: Zach's Story Zach's love of baking with healthy ingredients has paid off in a big way. Find out how he turned his healthy eating philosophy into a successful business.|
|Egg Allergy Babies sometimes have an allergic reaction to eggs. If that happens, they can't eat eggs for a while. But the good news is that most kids outgrow this allergy by age 5.|
|Nut and Peanut Allergy A growing number of kids are allergic to nuts and peanuts. Find out more about this problem and how allergic kids can stay healthy.|
|Nut and Peanut Allergy Peanuts are one of the most common allergy-causing foods, and they often find their way into things you wouldn't imagine. Learn the facts on living with a nut or peanut allergy.|
|If My Child Has Food Allergies, What Should I Look for When Reading Food Labels? Food labels can help you spot allergens your child must avoid. Find out more.|
|What's the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Intolerance? Food allergies and food intolerances, like lactose intolerance, are not the same. Find out more.|
|What Is Skin Testing for Allergies? A scratch or skin prick test is a common way doctors find out more about a person's allergies.|
|Egg Allergy Helping your child manage an egg allergy means reading food labels carefully, being aware of what he or she eats, and carrying the right medicines in case of an allergic reaction.|
|First Aid: Allergic Reactions Although most allergic reactions aren't serious, severe reactions can be life-threatening and can require immediate medical attention.|
|5 Ways to Be Prepared for an Allergy Emergency Quick action is essential during a serious allergic reaction. It helps to remind yourself of action steps so they become second nature if there's an emergency. Here's what to do.|
|Serious Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis) A person with severe allergies can be at risk for a sudden, serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction can seem scary, but the good news is it can be treated.|
|Fish Allergy Fish allergy can cause a serious reaction. Find out how to keep kids safe.|
|Soy Allergy Soy is found in many foods and it's a common food allegy. Find out how to help kids with an allergy stay safe.|
|Allergy Testing Doctors use several different types of allergy tests, depending on what a person may be allergic to. Find out what to expect from allergy tests.|
|Celiac Disease People with celiac disease can't eat gluten, which is found in many everyday foods, such as bread. Find out more by reading this article for kids.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.