A wheat allergy is a reaction by your child's immune system to wheat. Our immune systems normally respond to bacteria or viruses that attack the body. A food allergy occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly believes that a harmless food substance (such as proteins found in wheat) is harmful. In order to protect the body, the immune system creates substances called antibodies to that food. The next time you eat that particular food, your immune system releases huge amounts of chemicals, such as histamines, to protect the body. This is what causes the symptoms.
Wheat is among the 8 foods that are responsible for most food allergies in children. The other foods include milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts and cashews), eggs, fish, and shellfish.
There are 4 types of protein found in wheat, (albumin, globulin, gliadin, and gluten). Your child may be allergic to any one of these proteins.
Wheat allergy is often confused with celiac disease. Celiac disease is a digestive problem that causes the body to react to all types of gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye grains. Children with wheat allergy may or may not react to oats, rye, and barley. Ask your healthcare provider if your child needs to avoid these grains as well.
If you think your child is allergic to wheat or any other food, it is important to get a diagnosis from your healthcare provider or allergist.
Symptoms may include:
Although rare, it is possible to have an allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock. This is a serious reaction that is sudden, severe, and can involve the whole body. It can cause swelling of the mouth and throat, dangerously lower blood pressure, and trouble breathing. This type of reaction is a medical emergency. It is treated with epinephrine (a medicine that is given by injection). Usually parents or caregivers of children who have severe allergic reactions carry their own shot kits, just in case of emergency.
An allergic reaction to a food usually starts within minutes but may be delayed 2 to 4 hours. It usually lasts less than 1 day. The more severe the allergy, the smaller the amount of food it takes to cause a reaction.
Your child will need to avoid all sources of wheat. Wheat is found in hundreds of foods such as most bread products, pastas, and items made with flour. Many processed foods contain flour-based thickeners. You will need to change the way you order, shop and prepare foods.
If you are breast-feeding, eliminate the food your child is allergic to from your diet. Food allergens can be absorbed from your diet and enter into your breast milk
The first step is to learn to read labels and become familiar with ingredients that contain wheat or wheat products. Always ask about ingredients if you are not sure. Study the lists below to learn more about foods and ingredients to watch out for.
Foods that contain wheat
Foods/ingredients that often contain wheat (check the label or ask)
You will need to prepare more meals from scratch using whole natural foods. Wheat-free food products, such as bread and pancake mixes, noodles, and substitute flours such as potato, rice, soy, and corn are often available in health food markets and the natural foods section of grocery stores. There are also Web sites where you can buy specialty foods online (such as http://www.allergygrocery.com). To be on the safe side, buy products that have an 800 number for you to call and ask about ingredients.
Cross contamination can be problem when trying to avoid wheat. Wheat can come in contact with other foods during processing and in preparation, even if not included in the recipe. At home, use separate cutting boards, bowls, and utensils and label all food containers.
Reading labels to avoid allergens has become a lot easier. Foods that contain milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, or soy products must list the food in plain language on the ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (wheat). These possible allergens must be listed even if they are part of a flavoring, coloring, or spice blend. There are still some things to watch out for when reading food labels:
It is very important for you to know less common names and scientific names for food ingredients.
Your child can still have a healthy diet. The main nutrients found in wheat are carbohydrate, protein, fiber, folic acid, niacin, zinc, magnesium, and iron. Your child can get all these nutrients from other foods, but there is a risk for not getting enough B vitamins. Other sources of B vitamins include dark leafy vegetables, bananas, asparagus, oranges, peanuts, and other fortified grains such as corn meal and rice flours. Ask your healthcare provider or dietitian if your child should take vitamin supplements.
Most recipes can be modified to fit a wheat-free diet. There are several good wheat-free or gluten-free cookbooks and web sites with recipes.