What is a wheat allergy?
A wheat allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to one or more proteins found in wheat, as it believes it is a threat. The immune system produces substances called immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE) which are specifically activated when they encounter wheat. When wheat is eaten, inhaled or touched these antibodies connect with wheat proteins and trigger an allergic response. In most cases, this happens immediately, in seconds or minutes.
What are the symptoms of a wheat allergy?
Symptoms of a wheat allergy vary from mild (such as a rash, lip, eye or facial swelling or vomiting) to severe (such as difficulty in breathing, tightening of the throat, tongue swelling or drowsiness).
Some people may need to avoid foods which contain a large amount of wheat such as bread, cakes, biscuits, wheat-containing breakfast cereals and pasta. For others, a very small trace of wheat may cause a reaction. Regardless of the reaction, your child should be referred to a specialist dietitian for advice and to ensure their diet is balanced and provides the correct nutrition needed for their growth and development.
Treatment is through diet alone and involves the complete avoidance of wheat. This is a very large food group and contains numerous foods including: wholewheat, wheat germ, wheat starch, couscous, semolina, spelt, wheat/durum pasta and wheat noodles. It is essential to include suitable alternatives such as maize, millet, quinoa, rice, rye, pure oats, rice or buckwheat noodles, rice or corn pasta, chickpea, corn and buckwheat flours.
What should you do if you suspect a wheat allergy?
If you think your child may have a wheat allergy, it is very important to see a GP. They should then refer you to a specialist centre for investigations. A skin prick test will diagnose if your child has a wheat allergy. This involves having a small amount of wheat extract in a solution being applied on your child’s arm and their skin will be pricked after. If there is a positive reaction, this indicates that it is likely your child will have a reaction to wheat. It does not measure the severity of the reaction.
Children who are considered a high risk will be prescribed an EpiPen by their GP. This contains adrenaline and must be used immediately if wheat is eaten to help avoid an anaphylactic reaction. It should be carried with them at all times and their school and teachers should be informed. For those with a less severe allergy, antihistamines are used.
Have you had a child diagnosed with a wheat allergy? Share your experiences in the comments below…