Wheat-Related Allergies and Diseases

Your body may or may not be able to handle wheat, grains, and gluten. If you can't handle them, your body reacts in one of three ways:

  • Autoimmune disease: Your body turns against itself and attacks healthy tissues. This is what happens with celiac disease in response to eating gluten. It can take anywhere from days to years for an autoimmune disease to develop.

  • Allergic reaction: The immune system has an immediate reaction to something the body is hypersensitive to. The reaction can range from mild to immediate and potentially fatal.

  • Intolerance: A food intolerance doesn't involve the immune system, and it's not life-threatening. It can take just a few minutes or several hours for your body to have an intolerance reaction. However, the symptoms may still be unpleasant.

An allergy is a bodily reaction to any substance that produces symptoms. Anything you eat, inhale, or touch can cause an allergy. Symptoms may include a runny nose, wheezing, asthma, hives, itchy eyes, constipation, diarrhea, or a skin rash. In regard to wheat, a wheat allergy produces symptoms within hours of eating wheat.

Wheat is a well-known allergen that leads to symptoms that are often attributed to other causes. If you suffer from allergies, eliminating wheat from your diet is the first step in identifying the source of your allergy.

To determine whether you're allergic to wheat, your doctor performs a physical exam, skin test, and blood test. He'll also likely ask you to complete a symptom questionnaire and keep a diary of your diet and symptoms.

After you're diagnosed with a wheat allergy, you need to avoid all contact, ingestible and non-ingestible, with triggers associated with wheat.

Disease, on the other hand, is when your body doesn't function properly and you experience pain and/or physical discomfort. In the case of wheat- and grain-related diseases, gluten intolerance can cause celiac disease. Symptoms for celiac disease include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.

Diseases have specific symptoms, but many symptoms can be the result of several, even dozens, of diseases. Symptomatically, celiac disease is often confused with other gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and food poisoning.

If you and your doctor suspect that you have celiac disease, you undergo blood tests and intestinal biopsies to identify the cause of symptoms. Dermatitis herpetiformis, also known as the gluten rash, can be used to confirm positive tests with the blood and biopsies.

After you're diagnosed with celiac disease, you'll probably feel relieved to know what's causing your symptoms and how to treat the disease. However, the only treatment known for celiac disease is total gluten-free living.

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