The Difference Between Celiac Disease and Wheat Allergy


celiac diseaseIn recent years, there has been a huge increase in attention given to gluten allergies. For a while, the condition seemed to become a “catch-all” diagnosis for all digestive problems, and people started going crazy trying to eliminate gluten from their diets — which is no small feat. Gluten, a substance often used to give food its shape and hold it together, seems to be everywhere, even in places you wouldn’t think, such as cosmetics and medications. However, there has been some misunderstandings about gluten allergies. For example, a gluten allergy (or celiac disease) is quite different from a gluten sensitivity. Another common misconception about gluten is that it is synonymous to wheat. However, gluten is actually a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, all of which are used to make a number of different things, and a wheat allergy is something totally different.

Let’s take a look at the differences between:

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which a reaction to gluten causes the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestines, preventing it from absorbing nutrients effectively. Celiac Disease is serious and there are a multitude of symptoms, from digestive to musculoskeletal, and related conditions associated with the disorder. For more information on long-term health problems caused by celiac, visit WebMD.
  • Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disorder and is still a bit of a mystery to the medical world as far as its causes, but scientists, and the people who suffer from it, now recognize its existence and the impact it has on quality of life. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)  has symptoms that range from digestive distress to headaches and fatigue. A full explanation of the disorder can be found in our blog “Gluten Sensitivity: It Does Exist.”
  • Wheat allergy, also an autoimmune disorder, is a reaction to one of the numerous proteins found in wheat, and people who have a wheat allergy, unless suffering from celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, can have gluten in non-wheat sources. The symptoms of a wheat allergy includes both respiratory and digestive issues and are similar to other food allergies. For more information on wheat allergies, visit the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

The first step to diagnosing whether or not you have one of these disorders is to see a doctor for testing. The Gluten Intolerance Group explains the process:

  • Starting the gluten-free diet without complete testing is not recommended and makes diagnosis difficult.
  • It is necessary to be consuming gluten in order for diagnostic tests to provide valid results.
  • The first step to diagnosing celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a panel of blood tests.
  • Wheat allergy is generally diagnosed through RAST or skin prick testing.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed by first ruling out celiac disease, wheat allergy and other conditions which could be causing symptoms. Then, if improvement is seen on a gluten-free diet, NCGS may be diagnosed.

Luckily with celiac disease, NCGS and wheat allergies being in the spotlight, more and more people are getting diagnosed and helped much sooner. The even better news is that if you are diagnosed with any of these conditions, there are now tons of resources that will help you create delicious and satisfying gluten and/or wheat-free meals. To get you started, the Celiac Disease Foundation provides downloadable pediatric and adult “7-Day Gluten-Free Meal Plans” with shopping lists. The foundation also offers tips on reading labels so that you can rest assured that what you’re buying is safe for you and your family.

If you think you or a loved one may have celiac disease, NCGS and/or wheat allergies, schedule an appointment with CT Sinus Center today. Our expert physicians will take the time to thoroughly discuss your diet and symptoms before administering diagnostic testing and determining the best way for you to start eating in a way that keeps you both happy and healthy.

Call 860-BALLOON to schedule an appointment at one of our four conveniently-located offices.

And for all things allergy– and sinus-related, check out the CT Sinus website and blog.

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