As I search and browse throughout the Internet to determine what people are discussing in regards to Celiac disease, I find a troubling trend: People often do not understand that a wheat allergy is completely different from a gluten intolerance. In fact, many people and many sites mistakenly use these two terms interchangeably.
It is important for you to understand how these two health conditions are two completely different medical situations and why it is vital to appreciate the difference between them.
What is A Wheat Allergy?
A wheat allergy is more like the allergies you most often hear about, such as hay fever or allergies to pets. It is a histamine response wherein certain white blood cells (called bastophils) and mast cells react to Immunoglobulin E (IgE). It is not an autoimmune disease and it can be somewhat well treated in most cases with an antihistamine.
Wheat allergies manifest themselves with symptoms such as hives, rashes, itchiness, sneezing, watery eyes and occasionally stomach or even mouth pain (some people’s tongues react to wheat). These symptoms occur almost immediately after consuming wheat.
What is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten intolerance, whether through Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), is an autoimmune disease which manifests its symptoms over time. Gluten intolerance is a systemic response to the proteins glutenin and gliadin within gluten. When unusually strong antibodies in your system react to these proteins, they attack the lining of your small intestine.
Over time, the villi along your small intestinal lining wear down and make your intestine less able to digest and absorb nutrients from your food. Despite what many people seem to think, this is not an instantaneous reaction. It can sometimes take years for symptoms to result from gluten intolerance (although most often it only takes months or even just weeks).
I don’t mean to suggest they are less severe; in fact, gluten intolerance symptoms can be very severe and even life-threatening if they go untreated. From fatigue and depression to serious malnutrition (and much more), the long-term effects can be dire.
So I hope you now better understand the difference between these two health phenomenons. Wheat allergies are a histamine response which occurs right after you consume food containing wheat. Gluten intolerance is an autoimmune disease which manifests its symptoms over time and will occur if you eat any gluten-containing foods whatsoever (not just wheat products). If you suffer from gluten intolerance, it is imperative that you eliminate all gluten from your diet.