Gluten Allergy: Everything You Need to Know

Gluten allergy is an increasingly popular condition among people. Does it really exist? Today we answer this question and suggest how to act to avoid complications.
Gluten Allergy: Everything You Need to Know

Last update: 20 January, 2023

Gluten has become the villain of a healthy diet in recent decades. This protein is responsible for both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a reaction with symptoms similar to those of the first condition. Recently, a third condition has been added: Gluten allergy. But is there really a true protein allergy?

Does gluten allergy exist?

Gluten allergy is under discussion.
The clinical situations related to gluten intolerance usually manifest in the form of abdominal discomfort and diarrhea.

There’s no such thing as a gluten allergy, at least if we consider it strictly from a scientific point of view. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat (among others) that can trigger the following conditions:

  • Celiac disease: This is an autoimmune disorder that’s triggered when the patient with celiac disease ingests gluten. In other words, the body attacks itself, specifically in the villi that line the intestine. This produces gastrointestinal symptoms, although symptoms can appear in other parts of the body. It has no cure, and its treatment consists of abandoning the gluten protein in the diet.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: This is a recently accepted disease characterized by the presence of gastrointestinal signs after ingesting gluten. However, patients test negative for celiac disease. Treatment also consists of permanently omitting protein from the diet.

As Coeliac UK rightly reminds us, neither celiac disease nor gluten sensitivity are allergies. People diagnosed with one of the conditions often refer to it as a gluten allergy. In part, because it’s easier to simplify when explaining what they have to a family member, friend, or third party.

Although this is an inaccurate term from a medical point of view, in practice, it’s very useful in order to avoid technicalities. With its help, it’s quickly made clear that your body doesn’t react well to protein intake.

Remember that allergies are distinguished by almost instantaneous reactions that involve respiratory, rash, or nervous symptoms. None of the symptoms of the above conditions exhibit this quality.

Although the answer is settled, we still have one more question: Why do some claim to have allergic reactions after eating foods with gluten?

What is a wheat allergy?

Gluten allergy is unlikely
It’s likely that the supposed “gluten allergy” is actually the result of an allergic reaction to another component in wheat, barley, and rye, for example.

Evidence tells us that wheat allergy, along with the aforementioned conditions, is the third most common gluten-related disorder. Like these, its prevalence is lower: Studies suggest that it affects less than 1% of people.

Therefore, what many believe to be a gluten allergy is actually nothing more than allergic conditions that develop after eating wheat.

Although it’s made up of gluten, this protein isn’t the only factor responsible for allergic reactions. This explains why patients only have complications with wheat and not with other foods such as barley or rye. It may cause hay fever. Among its most common manifestations, we highlight the following:

  • Skin rashes with hives
  • Nasal secretions
  • Sneezing
  • Asthma
  • Swelling
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Colic
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anaphylaxis

These symptoms are triggered almost immediately after the ingestion of a food containing wheat (bread, for example). They can also appear before external contact, as many products use it among their ingredients (cosmetics, shampoos, and others).

Another possible explanation can be found in food allergy. Studies suggest that it affects 10% of the population, with an increasingly increasing prevalence. It’s likely, then, that the allergic conditions are caused by other foods that you eat together with gluten, and not this protein itself.

What do I do if I suspect that I have any of these conditions?

It’s important to consult a specialist to rule out or diagnose an episode of allergy to a food (including wheat) or conditions related to gluten such as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It’s important to do this if you notice that the symptoms are persistent or especially dangerous.

For example, anaphylaxis can be life threatening. It develops in minutes or seconds, and without the ability to react, the prognoses aren’t positive. This is why a visit with a specialist is something that you shouldn’t postpone, so the true cause is discovered and treatment can begin.

In summary, there’s no such thing as a gluten allergy, so the reason is found in another condition when allergy symptoms are experienced. If you decide to eliminate gluten from your diet, we recommend doing it under the supervision of a nutritionist.

This professional will guide the process and recommend an eating plan to compensate for the deficiencies that may be generated.

  • Elli L, Branchi F, Tomba C, Villalta D, Norsa L, Ferretti F, Roncoroni L, Bardella MT. Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Jun 21;21(23):7110-9.
  • Ricci G, Andreozzi L, Cipriani F, Giannetti A, Gallucci M, Caffarelli C. Wheat Allergy in Children: A Comprehensive Update. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019 Jul 23;55(7):400.
  • Savage J, Johns CB. Food allergy: epidemiology and natural history. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2015 Feb;35(1):45-59.

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