Do you know the difference between a wheat allergy and a gluten allergy?
If you don’t, you’re not alone. These two conditions are frequently confused with each other. Their symptoms often overlap, and the same foods can trigger both conditions.
However, wheat allergies and gluten intolerance are not the same.
The two have different causes, and people with these conditions need to restrict their diets in different ways to lead healthy lives.
So let’s take a closer look at the difference between them …
The difference between a wheat allergy and a gluten allergy
What is a wheat allergy?
Wheat allergies are caused by an immune system that is hypersensitive to one of the proteins in wheat. It perceives the protein as a threat and attacks it, resulting in an allergic reaction. Gluten is one of the proteins in wheat, and some people do have this kind of allergic reaction to gluten. However, wheat contains thousands of other proteins that can cause similar allergic reactions. Many people with wheat allergies are able to eat wheat-free foods that contain gluten with no adverse effects.
The symptoms of wheat allergies can vary widely. Skin rashes, a stuffy nose, swelling of the mouth and throat, and gastrointestinal symptoms can all indicate a wheat allergy. Anaphylaxis, a condition that causes difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, paleness, and a fast heartbeat, is the most severe form of allergic reaction to wheat. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
What is a gluten allergy?
A “gluten allergy” is somewhat of a misnomer. Although the phrase is widely used, it isn’t a medical term, and it can refer to two different conditions. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten. Some people also have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is a less serious condition defined by the inability to digest gluten.
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder. In a person with this disease, gluten triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. If left unchecked, celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine and impairs the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition.
Since it is a digestive condition, celiac disease usually causes symptoms that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are among the most common signs. Because it causes malabsorption, celiac disease can also cause anemia and weight loss. Sometimes it even shows up as a rash on the skin, known as dermatitis herpetiformis.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
It’s possible to not have celiac disease, but still have problems digesting gluten. This condition is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Though further research is needed to understand this condition, it’s believed that people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity do not have the necessary enzymes in their body to digest gluten properly. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal discomfort, bloating, and diarrhea. However, it does not lead to intestinal damage or malnutrition.
For people dealing with one of these conditions, it’s important to note that not all wheat-free foods are gluten-free. Gluten is present not only in wheat, but also in barley and rye. However, if a food is labeled gluten-free, it is free of wheat as well.
If you think you may be allergic to wheat or intolerant of gluten, see a doctor. A medical professional can administer tests to determine whether your body is reacting to gluten or another compound in wheat. If you’re diagnosed with a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may need to permanently abstain from foods that contain wheat or gluten. The good news is that by avoiding these foods, you’ll get immediate relief from your symptoms, and if you have celiac disease, your body will start to repair the damage done by gluten.