is gluten an allergen
Can you be allergic to gluten? Learn about the difference between wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity and how you can confirm a diagnosis

Every protein, including gluten, is a potential allergen. However, gluten allergy (which invokes Immunoglobulin E or IgE type antibodies) is very rare. Most people confuse wheat allergy or gluten intolerance with gluten allergy:

  • Wheat allergy is not the same as gluten allergy because: 
    • What allergy is caused by different components of wheat apart from gluten
    • Gluten doesn’t incite an allergic reaction that involves IgE antibodies (derived from a subtype of B type white blood cells). 
  • Gluten intolerance is caused by T type white blood cells and not an allergy.

Currently, there are no tests to diagnose gluten tolerance. People with certain symptoms may need to be tested for celiac disease, since celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that affects the digestive tract, causing severe diarrhea after consumption of gluten products. Other symptoms of celiac disease include rash, severe weight loss, and abdominal pain

Gluten intolerance is not an indicator for allergy testing, so allergists may not help when it comes to determining whether you are gluten intolerant. Since it’s easy to misdiagnose gluten intolerance as an allergy, consider consulting a physician or gastroenterologist before limiting your diet.

What happens if you eat gluten with celiac disease?

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains. Foods that typically contain gluten include:

  • Bread
  • Cake
  • Cereals
  • Pasta
  • Other grain-based foods

Gluten is responsible for providing shape, strength, and texture to bread and other grain products. However, consuming gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine in people with celiac disease, resulting in bloating, abdominal cramps, and general feelings of being unwell. It also prevents the absorption of vital nutrients, causing deficiencies that can lead to severe conditions, including:

What is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)?

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), also called gluten sensitivity (GS), gluten intolerance, or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), is not a well-defined term. 

People with non-celiac gluten or wheat sensitivity complain of symptoms similar to that of celiac disease. While these symptoms may resolve when gluten is eliminated from their diet, however, these people do not test positive for celiac disease.

NCGS is not an autoimmune disease, and it does not cause an allergic reaction similar to any food allergy. Some common symptoms of NCGS include:

How is gluten sensitivity diagnosed?

Currently, no tests or biomarkers can identify gluten sensitivity. As gluten sensitivity remains a mystery, experts wonder if other components of gluten-containing grain may be involved in causing symptoms. Some experts believe the cause of NCGS may have a genetic component, but concrete evidence to support this claim is lacking. 

To diagnose gluten sensitivity, your doctor must primarily rule out celiac disease, wheat allergy, and other possible causes. If your symptoms improve with a gluten-free diet, your doctor may confirm a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/11/2021
References
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Wheat Allergy. https://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/wheat-gluten-allergy

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Gluten and Food Labeling. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/gluten-and-food-labeling

Gluten Intolerance Group. Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Wheat Allergy: What Is the Difference? https://gluten.org/2019/10/15/celiac-disease-non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-or-wheat-allergy-what-is-the-difference/