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If you get a stomachache after eating cereal, bread or pasta, you may have a wheat allergy. A wheat allergy, like every allergy, is when your immune system identifies wheat proteins as harmful. Therefore, when you eat wheat, your immune system responds and releases histamine and other chemicals, which then causes your allergic symptoms.
Wheat allergy is most commonly seen in children and is usually outgrown by school-age.1 Rarely, it can cause severe reactions like anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and send the body into shock.2
Intake of wheat in combination with exercise can in rare occasions lead to what some call "Runners Shock" or what is also known as Wheat Dependent Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis (WDEIA).3,4 The combination of wheat intake and exercise elicits a severe reaction and possible anaphylaxis. 3,4 One special allergenic part in wheat is often responsible for runner’s shock and requires a specialist consultation.5
Common symptoms of wheat allergy include:
Someone who is allergic to wheat is likely to develop symptoms within minutes to hours after eating wheat.
Below are some wheat-containing foods, drinks, and sauces that could trigger an allergic response in someone with a wheat allergy:
Breads and cakes
Cookies and muffins
Farina, semolina and spelt
Processed meats, like hot dogs or cold cuts
Dairy products, like ice cream
Licorice and jelly beans
Although allergic reactions typically occur when eating wheat, they can also happen by inhaling wheat flour. Some people with a wheat allergy may also react to other grains like rye or barley due to cross-reactivity between gluten proteins.6 And nonfood items with wheat-based ingredients, like modeling clay, cosmetics or bath products can also cause an allergic reaction.
Wheat allergy is often confused with other gluten related disorders—like celiac disease—because both can cause you to have similar symptoms, like bloating, gas or diarrhea. If you suffer digestive problems after eating food with wheat in it, talk to your healthcare professional about testing. There are several good reasons why a test should be considered: Testing is easy to perform and can help determine whether the symptoms are actually due to a wheat allergy or another disorder on the gluten-related spectrum.
You may be avoiding wheat and all the foods that contain wheat because you think it’s what caused your reaction. Many people are so used to living with—and being embarrassed by—their uncomfortable digestive problems that they never consider asking for help. But learning what causes your symptoms now may also help you avoid more serious issues in the future.
So, how do you know if your symptoms are caused by a wheat allergy—or something else? Since the majority of children do outgrow their wheat allergy, periodic re-evaluation—including testing—is recommended. The level of wheat specific IgE antibodies in someone’s blood can help determine the probability of symptoms occurring when eating wheat.7
If you think you or a loved one has a wheat allergy, don’t try to manage the problem on your own. A simple blood test—together with your medical history—can help identify underlying allergen triggers, if you have an allergy. Knowing if you’re allergic and what you’re allergic to can help you get relief. Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional.