Could You Be Gluten Intolerant? Spotting the Symptoms of a Wheat Allergy
Gluten intolerance is a condition that seems to be on the rise, with increasing numbers of people opting to follow a gluten-free diet. It’s a subject of some debate whether the ailment is simply more readily diagnosed today, or is genuinely becoming more common.
Some people dismiss the whole subject as a modern fad, but the fact remains that people do experience real effects after consuming gluten, ranging in severity from the disruptive to the life threatening. What are the symptoms of a wheat allergy you should be looking out for?
Relatively Minor Symptoms
For many people, wheat allergy symptoms are more irritating or uncomfortable rather than serious. This is not to say they should be ignored or belittled, but they don’t offer the medical threat that celiac disease suffers must face.
After eating or coming into contact with wheat, these people might develop a headache or itchy, watery eyes. They could break out into hives – red, blotchy welts that itch or sting. In most cases, hives can be successfully treated with an antihistamine.
Wheat allergies also cause nasal congestion. Depending on the individual, this can result in either a runny or a stuffed-up nose. Sneezing is common as is experiencing drainage in the throat. Antihistamines or corticosteroids can help clear up these symptoms if they become too unpleasant.
Rarely, wheat allergies cause angioedema. This is a more advanced form of hives, involving swelling within the deep tissues of the face, particularly around the mouth but also occasionally near the eyes. Like hives, it’s not often serious and will usually fade away on its own. However, if the swelling becomes severe it could lead to breathing or vision problems. In any case, it is a disturbing reaction and you should seek medical advice if you experience it for the first time.
For other people, eating wheat affects their digestion. This is the most common symptom of a wheat allergy, and is often the first time a sufferer starts to wonder if something is wrong.
Digestive symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, and diarrhea. These symptoms can develop within minutes of ingesting food that contains wheat, although it’s also possible for it to take hours before the symptoms manifest. Digestive reactions typically subside once the wheat has passed through the body, requiring no further treatment.
Serious Reactions and Celiac Disease
The relatively mild symptoms described so far can be mainly grouped under the term ‘gluten intolerance’. However, wheat has the potential to cause more serious, life-threatening symptoms for people with full-blown celiac disease. People with this severe condition could suffer swelling of the face, neck, mouth or throat. If the swelling begins to block their airways, breathing becomes difficult. This is called anaphylaxis.
When this anaphylaxis occurs, the affected person’s throat may feel tight and they often find it difficult to swallow. They might experience chest pain and a rapid heartbeat or palpitations. Dizziness can occur, leading to disorientation or fainting. Often, the person’s skin will lose natural color or develop a slight blue tinge.
It’s imperative to seek medical help right away if any of these symptoms appear. Anaphylaxis is a true life-threatening emergency that requires professional medical assistance within minutes. Even if the allergy sufferer has an epinephrine pen on hand to stave off an attack, anaphylaxis has the potential to reoccur within the same episode. After initial treatment of wheat-induced anaphylaxis, symptoms can reappear up to four hours later, either with or without visible rashes this time.
There is a lot of media attention at the moment around gluten intolerance and wheat allergies, but no matter what the naysayers would have you believe, for many people it presents a true problem. Whether your symptoms are relatively mild and fairly easily dealt with, or you’re one of the very unlucky few for whom eating wheat presents a serious risk to life, careful monitoring of the foods you eat and being alert to any potential symptoms is key to staying on top of the condition.