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The Wheat Allergy; It’s Not the Same as Avoiding Gluten

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The wheat allergy may be one of the most misunderstood of the food allergies.  A wheat allergy is different from a celiac sprue or a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.  Many times people mistake a wheat allergy for sensitivity or intolerance.

Wheat allergies can also be one of the most frustrating allergies to live with. People with wheat allergies are often frustrated going grocery shopping and picking out items that they never would imagine contain wheat, only to read the label to discover it does contain wheat.

In this article we will discuss what a wheat allergy is, which ingredients to avoid, how to stay safe and what the difference is between a wheat allergy and a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here. Keep in mind food production can change, always check food labels to be sure products are free of your particular food allergen. For further information please see full Disclaimer.

How Common is a Wheat Allergy?

About 2.4 million Americans have a wheat allergy.

Wheat allergies are more common in babies and young children than in adults.  Once the digestive tract matures, a child may be able to outgrow a wheat allergy.  About 1% of children in the U.S. have a wheat allergy (1).  Many children (about two-thirds) will outgrow a wheat allergy by the age of twelve (2).

What are the 9 Most Common Food Allergies?

The top 9 food allergies also known as the big 9 allergens in the United States are:

  1. Milk
  2. Egg
  3. Peanut
  4. Soy
  5. Wheat
  6. Tree Nut
  7. Shellfish
  8. Fish
  9. Sesame
The Top 9 Food Allergens in the U.S. Top 9 Food Allergies. 1. Fish 2. Shellfish 3. Tree Nuts 4. Peanuts 5. Milk 6. Wheat 7. Egg 8. Soy 9. Sesame

Feel free to click on the links above to learn more about each of these food allergens.

You can be allergic to many other foods besides these top nine.

What are Symptoms of a Wheat Allergy?

Wheat allergy symptoms can vary from person to person but some typical reactions are listed below.   

  • Hives
  • Swelling of lips, tongue, throat, face
  • Dizziness
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Wheezing (difficulty breathing)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Digestive problems
  • Coughing
  • Loss of consciousness

An allergic reaction to wheat can occur minutes to hours after ingestion.  Reactions to wheat vary.  Reactions can be mild (requiring only an antihistamine) or they may be a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis.  

Anaphylaxis is not common with wheat allergies.  If a severe reaction occurs, epinephrine is required.  

A reaction to wheat may occur not only from ingestion of wheat, but also from inhaling wheat flour in the air.  Take this into consideration when dining out at restaurants that may use flour to bread and fry their food items.  For example a restaurant that serves fried chicken may cause allergic reactions from the wheat that is in the air.

A Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis  Emergency Care Plan is a great tool for personalized food allergy treatment.

What is the Difference Between a Wheat Allergy and Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance? 

A wheat allergy vs gluten intolerance vs. celiac disease all involve different pathways in your body.

A Wheat allergy involves something called immunoglobulin E (IgE).  Celiac disease and gluten intolerance do not involve IgE.  The top 9 food allergies in the United states (wheat, egg, soy, milk, sesame, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, and fish)  are all IgE Mediated.  

A wheat allergy may be life threatening, whereas a gluten intolerance or sensitivity can make you very sick, but is not considered life threatening.

A gluten restriction involves avoiding more food items than omitting wheat from your diet.  Individuals with a wheat allergy should be able to safely eat all gluten free foods as long as they do not have any additional food allergies. 

Always read the food label carefully and check the ingredients no matter what the claim is (example:  gluten free).

Unlike those with a wheat allergy, individuals with gluten intolerance or sensitivity have to avoid gluten, a protein found in many grains.  

To learn more about the difference between food sensitivities, food intolerance, and food allergies I have written an article explaining the differences.

Food Allergies, Food Sensitivities, and Food Intolerances, Oh My!!!

Foods to Avoid with a Wheat Allergy

Wheat is very common in the American diet.  Now more than ever, there are more wheat free options available to consumers.  

Some possible food sources which do contain wheat or could contain wheat:

  • Ale
  • Beer
  • Bran
  • Bread
  • Bread Crumbs
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Bulgar
  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • Cereal Extract
  • Chips
  • Club Wheat
  • Cookies
  • Couscous
  • Crackers 
  • Cracker Meal
  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Farro (emmer)
  • Farina
  • Freekeh
  • Glucose Syrup
  • Gluten or vital Gluten 
  • Hot Dogs
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Ice Cream
  • Imitation Crab Meat
  • Kamut
  • Malted Drinks
  • Matzoh or matzoh meal (also spelled as matzo, matzah or matza)
  • Muffins
  • Natural Flavorings
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Plant based meat alternatives
  • Salad Dressings
  • Sauces
  • Seitan
  • Semolina
  • Some ice cream
  • Some meat products
  • Soy sauce
  • Sprouted Wheat
  • Spelt
  • Starch (gelatinized starch, modified starch, modified food starch, vegetable starch)
  • Surimi
  • Triticale
  • Wheat (bran, durum, gluten, malt, sprouts, germ, grass, starch)
  • Wheat beer
  • Wheat berries
  • Wheat bran hydrolysate
  • Wheat flour (all types)
  • Wheat germ oil
  • Wheat protein isolate
  • Vegetable Gum
Foods to Eliminate or Investigate with a Wheat Allergy

Individuals with a wheat allergy usually do not have allergies to other grains.  Talk with your Board Certified Allergist if you have a wheat allergy to see if you should be avoiding other grains.  At times, individuals with a wheat allergy are allergic to barley.

Some wheat free grains include:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Oat
  • Rice
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Tapioca
  • Teff
  • Quinoa

Wheat may also be found in personal care products such as moisturizers and soaps.  Wheat may also be found in medications.

Arts and Crafts supplies may also contain wheat.  Not everyone is aware, but play doh is a popular craft that contains wheat.

Allergens in Arts and Crafts are always an important consideration when someone has a food allergy, especially young children.  Be sure to take this into consideration when doing an arts and crafts project.  Be sure to educate teachers and other community members on this as well.

Food Allergy Labeling.  About FALCPA

In 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), identified the following foods as major food allergens:  milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.

Effective January 1, 2023, the FASTER Act  (the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act) was signed into law, adding sesame as the 9th major food allergen recognized in the U.S. 

FALCPA  requires that foods or ingredients that contain major food allergens be labeled with the name of the allergen source.   

FALCPA states that major food allergens should be listed in one of three ways:

  1. In the ingredient list, using the allergen’s common name. 
  2. By  citing the word “Contains” followed by the name of the major food allergen—for example, “Contains wheat”
  3. In the ingredient list in parentheses after a less common name of ingredient that may contain an allergen.  Example: Emmer (wheat).

Again, discuss with your provider which foods you should avoid with a wheat allergy.

Made in a Facility/Cross Contamination Statements for Wheat

Food manufacturers may use equipment to produce multiple products.  This may lead to cross contamination of allergens.  Some manufacturers disclose this information and others do not.  This is true for both FALCPA and non-FALCPA allergens.

Cross contamination statements are not required in the U.S.  Call the manufacturer to learn about their manufacturing practices.

Wheat Allergy Treatment

  1. Always read food labels closely and look for ingredients that indicate wheat.
  2. Avoid all foods related to your allergy.  Learn less common names for your particular food allergy.
  3. Become familiar with labeling laws.
  4. Talk to your Board Certified Allergist
  5. Be mindful of risk for cross contamination
  6. Be prepared to treat your wheat allergy in the case of accidental ingestion.  Be sure to have not one, but two doses of epinephrine available when eating.  Always call 911 if epinephrine is given.
  7. Talk to your doctor about how to treat symptoms of an allergic reaction and visit www.foodallergy.org for more detailed information about treating food allergies.  

Final Thoughts

A wheat allergy is different from a gluten sensitivity or intolerance as well as celiac sprue.

A wheat allergy can affect both children and adults.  About two-thirds of children with a wheat allergy outgrow the allergy by the age of twelve.  

Wheat is in many foods in the American diet including beer, many sauces, baked goods, breads, and even some hot dogs.

If you think you may be allergic to wheat see a Board Certified Allergist.
Like this post?  Make a comment.  Stay in touch by subscribing to my email list.  

Last Updated on March 8, 2023 by Amber DeVore, RD, CSSD, CLT

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