While it’s still not known what causes gluten allergy symptoms in adults and children, scientists have found it is an allergic reaction to gluten in foods. Gluten can be found in breads, cakes, and pies—generally foods including wheat and certain types of flour. By reducing gluten in someone's diet, symptoms usually abate and even disappear altogether.
While many doctors once dismissed gluten allergies as nonexistent, studies have consistently shown gluten allergy-related reactions in patients who were not suffering from celiac disease. Below are a few ways you can recognize allergy symptoms in yourself or those you love so that you can begin to reduce gluten in your diet.
Symptoms of Gluten Allergy in Children
Initially, a child or infant suffering from gluten allergies may present with chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. If a child is inexplicably experiencing weight loss, doctors may check for gluten allergy.
Since childhood is a crucial period for development, children are especially susceptible to serious, permanent damage as a result of gluten allergies, especially if the gluten allergy is related to a more serious condition, celiac disease. It is important to eliminate as many gluten containing foods from your diet as possible to prevent possible delays in development. Excessive exposure to gluten in allergic children can cause the child to be shorter and more underweight than average, and also cause them to experience anemia and tooth enamel damage.
While some have claimed to lower autism symptoms in children by removing gluten from their diets, this has been heavily debated. However, the National Institutes of Health cites a University of Alberta study in which gluten was removed from a five-year-old autism sufferer’s diet—the child’s gastrointestinal troubles abated, as did his autism symptoms. As a result, the researchers recommended children with neurodevelopmental problems be tested for signs of nutritional deficiency and malabsorption. However, it should be noted that this may be associated with the more severe celiac disease than an allergy to gluten alone.
Symptoms of Gluten Allergy in Adults
Like children, adults suffering from a gluten allergy may experience digestive upset. Gluten allergies may be difficult to detect at first because adults may suffer the occasional bout of diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.
Adults who have celiac disease, the more severe form of gluten allergy, may experience headaches, migraines, and muscle coordination issues. Because celiac disease can cause permanent damage, it is important that those who believe they may have gluten intolerance issues rule out celiac disease as soon as possible.
Even without the intestinal damage found in celiac disease, gluten allergy causes damage to other organs, including bones, skin, joints, and even the heart. Scientists have called for a re-evaluation of gluten allergy to correct the widespread belief that gluten allergies only affect the stomach.
Gluten Allergy vs. Gluten Intolerance
In general, food allergies are less prevalent than food intolerances. A food allergy is generally more severe, causing symptoms that can be life-threatening. For this reason, gluten allergies are often moved under the "intolerance" header, since most patients with gluten sensitivities have reactions that are more gastrointestinal.
Gluten intolerance can vary from mild to severe, with the more severe forms causing damage to the small intestines. Many of those who have gluten intolerance, however, simply reduce intake of gluten to achieve a reduction in symptoms.
A Word About Celiac Disease
Celiac disease occurs when the body’s immune system begins to respond as a result of the presence of gluten. The result is damage to the villi, which line the small intestine. This damage affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients, which can cause a variety of developmental issues, especially in children.
While there is no medical test to diagnose gluten allergies, celiac disease can be found via a blood test. Unlike those with gluten allergies, patients with celiac disease are told to completely remove gluten from their diets to avoid serious damage.
The difficulty comes in differentiating between gluten allergies and celiac disease. Since gluten allergies may progress to celiac disease, it is important for patients to be regularly checked for signs of celiac disease, especially young children.
While gluten allergies can mean dramatic changes in your diet, there are many gluten-free food items available now, both in grocery stores and restaurants. You can live a symptom-free life without giving up all of the foods you love.
If you suspect you or someone you love may have a gluten allergy, it is important you be tested as quickly as possible to rule out celiac disease and learn to alter your diet to get the relief you need.