Gluten allergiesNational Pharmacies
What is a gluten allergy?
Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and some grains and is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. It is one of the largest and most complex proteins we consume and is therefore, difficult for our digestive system to breakdown.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, there is technically no such thing as an ‘allergy to gluten’, however, there are gluten sensitivities and wheat allergies. Wheat allergies are commonly confused with gluten intolerance and coeliac disease.
Wheat allergy – an immune response when exposed to wheat proteins causing the release of histamines to combat the allergen.
Gluten intolerance – does not involve the immune response and does not cause severe allergic reactions.
Coeliac Disease – an autoimmune response whereby the body fights against itself, causing inflammation and damage of the small intestine lining.
Do you have a gluten allergy?
Generally, when there is a family history of allergies or allergic diseases, such as asthma or eczema, there is a greater risk of developing food allergies. Fortunately, about 65 percent of children will outgrow the allergy by the time they are 12 years old.
The symptoms of someone suffering from a wheat allergy are commonly hives/skin rash, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting or diarrhoea, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, headaches or asthma exacerbation. In rare occasions, a more serious reaction like anaphylaxis can occur and this can be life-threatening.
Approximately 1-2% of the population suffers from a wheat allergy or coeliac disease. Yet, 1 in 10 Australian adults are currently avoiding or limiting their consumption of wheat-based products. This may be due to the perception that a gluten-free diet is healthier. According to the current Australian Dietary Guidelines, grains like wheat are an important component of a balanced diet, as they are a source of fibre and important nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.
When should you seek medical advice?
Anyone who experiences any of the symptoms mentioned above after eating wheat-based products should be tested for a wheat allergy. The screening is done via a blood test or a skin prick test. It is important to see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis before
initiating a gluten-free diet. If allergy is not the cause of the symptoms, further testing should be done to rule out gluten intolerance or coeliac disease.
Unlike people with gluten intolerance who can use plant-based enzymes to help break down gluten found in their diet, the only option for people with wheat allergies is avoidance. Fortunately, there are many gluten-free options on the supermarket shelves and restaurants. It is also recommended that people with severe allergic reactions have medications, such as adrenaline, always on hand in case of an emergency.
For more information, feel free to head down to your local National Pharmacies to speak to one of our friendly pharmacists.
Mandy Koay, Pharmacist and Professional Practice Manager, National Pharmacies Norwood
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