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All About Gluten: Wheat Allergy vs Celiac Disease

All About Gluten: Wheat Allergy vs Celiac Disease

Wheat allergies are sometimes mistaken for celiac disease, but these are actually very different conditions, in both the cause as well as the reaction and symptoms.

Learn more about the celiac disease and wheat allergies, and their differences.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is not an allergy to gluten, which are proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye that help foods retain their shape. It’s an immune reaction where gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine, damaging its lining over time and preventing the absorption of nutrients.

The most common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weight Loss
  • Bloating and gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation

There are other symptoms related to the inability to absorb nutrients.

There is no cure, but following a strict gluten-free diet helps manage the symptoms and prevents further damage to the small intestine.

Wheat Allergy

Wheat is one of the 8 most common allergens. If someone has a wheat allergy, their immune system overreacts and creates antibodies to wheat protein.

Someone with a wheat allergy is allergic to proteins in wheat, but not necessarily to gluten.

An allergic reaction can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Symptoms of an allergic reaction develop within a few minutes or hours after consuming wheat. These symptoms include:

  • Flushing and redness
  • Hives
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Anaphylactic shock

Someone with a wheat allergy should avoid eating wheat and watch out for hidden allergens.

Key Differences

Although wheat allergy and celiac disease may seem similar upon first glance, there are a number of key distinctions.

A wheat allergy is not specifically a gluten allergy

Celiac disease is only to gluten. A wheat allergy can be a reaction to a number of different proteins in wheat, not necessarily gluten.

Different immune system responses

Both celiac disease and a wheat allergy trigger an abnormal immune system response, but they trigger different immune responses. Specifically, celiac disease triggers an immune response in the small intestine.

Time before symptoms show

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can occur within minutes of consuming wheat.

Celiac disease slowly damages the small intestine’s lining over time, so while digestive symptoms may show up sooner, symptoms of malabsorption due to damage to the small intestine will take a while to appear.

You can’t outgrow celiac disease

Wheat allergies are common in childhood, and many children outgrow their wheat allergies. People with celiac disease cannot outgrow it.

Want to learn more about food allergies and how to prevent allergic reactions? Take a look at our Allergen Awareness training.

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