Finding an accurate gluten allergy definition can be tricky because the term gluten allergy by itself is pretty meaningless. If you’re familiar with my site and my approach to this condition, you know I have a bit of a problem with the some of the terms used to label gluten intolerance and celiac disease. So here I will finally attempt to provide a final gluten allergy definition.
Table of Contents:
- Why The Term Gluten Allergy Is Misleading
- What Is An Allergy?
- What Is An Autoimmune Disease?
- What Is the Difference Between A Wheat Allergy and A Gluten Intolerance?
- What Are Gluten Allergy Symptoms?
Why The Term Gluten Allergy Is Misleading
When people say or type gluten allergy symptoms, they are usually referring to gluten intolerance symptoms. And in most cases, gluten intolerance is not an allergy. Gluten intolerance or its close sibling celiac disease, is an autoimmune disease. Symptoms resulting from this autoimmune disease are not an allergic reaction such as you associate with hay fever or the common and very serious peanut allergy.
Because gluten intolerance and celiac disease can manifest symptoms in a subtle fashion over time, it can literally be deadly to associate them with how many people perceive an allergy. Someone can have a serious gluten intolerance but eat a piece of gluten-dense bread and not have an immediate and obvious reaction to it. So when people say gluten allergy, people may think that in order to be gluten intolerant, they must somehow have some kind of obvious, severe reaction to eating something with a high concentration of gluten.
I personally think many people online use this term in an irresponsible way. I, too, use the term on my website, but I use it in a deliberate fashion to draw the people using this term to read my lessons and illuminate its misuse. Hopefully, by reading my article they can come to a better understanding of the term and its misuse as well as to the core underlying conditions addressed collectively by all these terms. I hope you will finally have a meaningful gluten allergy definition.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergy is the phenomenon where your body’s white blood cells, specifically basophils and mast cells, react to Immunoglobulin E (IgE). Less scientifically stated, this occurs when after exposure to an allergen you develop antibodies for that specific allergen. An allergy is known as a type 1 hypersensitivity, which means it is an immediate hypersensitivity.
An allergic reaction can be immediate and severe. Sometimes it may just be hives or a little sniffling, but some severe cases can trigger anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly if not treated immediately.
The distinction here is that when you suffer from an allergic reaction, you are essentially an innocent bystander to your body’s attack on a foreign entity your immune system has targeted as harmful. This is not the same as celiac disease or any autoimmune disease. This is particularly important to understand as you consider gluten allergy symptoms in children.
What Is An Autoimmune Disease?
Your body features a complex and effective system for finding and eliminating harmful invaders. This system is your immune system. An autoimmune disease occurs when your immune system turns on its own body and attacks your body tissue. People with autoimmune diseases have unusually high concentrations of rare antibodies moving through their bloodstream and targeting specific body tissues.
In the case of celiac disease symptoms, those antibodies are AGA, EMA and most importantly Anti-tTG, and their primary target is the lining of the small intestine.
Again, the distinction here is that unlike in an allergic reaction when your body is attacking a foreign entity, with an autoimmune disease like celiac disease your body is actually attacking itself. Gluten is the trigger, but your immune system isn’t attacking gluten; it is attacking you, specifically the lining of your small intestine and its villi.
What Is the Difference Between A Wheat Allergy and A Gluten Intolerance?
That question is at the crux of a gluten allergy definition. If you read the above two sections, you should have a pretty good idea what the difference is once you understand that a wheat allergy is specifically an allergic response or histamine response to wheat while gluten intolerance is an autoimmune response to the presence of gluten in the body. It might also help you to better understand what is gluten.
And believe it or not, you can have a wheat allergy and not have Celiac Disease (or gluten intolerance), or you can have Celiac Disease and not have a wheat allergy. They’re two completely different immune responses in your body.
A wheat allergy is usually specific to just wheat, whereas a gluten intolerance is to any grain containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye or spelt).
What Are Gluten Allergy Symptoms?
Listing gluten allergy symptoms can be difficult because what do you list, wheat allergy symptoms or gluten intolerance symptoms? Because the term gluten allergy contains the word gluten, I will focus primarily on gluten intolerance symptoms. I will expand on wheat allergies in additional articles for my site.
Here are the most common gluten allergy symptoms:
- Joint Pain
- Skin rashes, especially Dermatitis Herpetiformis symptoms
- Celiac Disease Constipation
- Gluten Intolerance Bloating
However, keep in mind that there are over 250 documented symptoms to celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Many or even most of them overlap with other diseases or conditions so it is pretty much impossible for you to diagnose yourself. Furthermore, gluten allergy symptoms in adults can manifest themselves differently than in gluten allergies in children. Please see a qualified medical professional if you believe you or your child may be suffering from some form of gluten sensitivity.
So I hope this helps you better understand the nebulous meaning of the phrase gluten allergy and why it is important you understand the difference between gluten intolerance and a wheat allergy. This may seem a little long-winded for a gluten allergy definition, but I hope by the time you finish this article, you understand why it has to be a little long-winded.