What Causes Gluten Sensitivity?
The two proteins that comprise gluten, gliadin and glutenin, are found primarily in wheat, but the proteins are also present in other grains, such as rye and barley. A gluten sensitivity is simply an intolerance; the body produces an abnormal response when it attempts to break down the proteins during the digestive process.
Like other food allergies, gluten intolerance most often produces changes in the skin, the gastrointestinal system and the respiratory system. However, allergic reactions to foods usually occur within a few minutes and can be quite severe or even life threatening. Acute allergic reactions are treated with life-saving injections of epinephrine and anti-histamines. On the other hand, gluten sensitivity can lead to significant discomfort but the effects are generally cumulative over a period of time. For those who are gluten sensitive, acute reactions can be a problem, but epinephrine and anti-histamines are not going to help. Being sensitive to gluten typically isn’t life threatening, but it can have a serious impact on a person’s quality of life. A severe form of gluten intolerance is Celiac disease, a condition that damages the intestines and blocks absorption of nutrients. People with this condition can have acute reactions to gluten, but the treatment is supportive care like staying hydrated while the body processes the gluten protein.
How Are Gluten sensitivities/allergies Tested?
A person can be allergic to gluten (wheat, barley and rye). The testing involves a traditional allergy skin test and/or lab tests. The best test will be determined by your board-certified allergy/immunology specialist.
The symptoms of gluten sensitivity or allergy can vary and sometimes mimic symptoms of other disorders. Identifying sensitivity or allergy to gluten starts with a good history and physical exam. Then, the most accurate way to determine the existence of sensitivity versus allergy is to get evaluated and tested by a medical professional. If tests reveal an allergy or gluten-sensitivity, the condition is usually managed by changes in diet. Being sensitive to gluten doesn’t necessarily mean a drastic change in lifestyle or the necessity of taking any medications. Proper testing can reveal or rule out Celiac disease, the most severe form of intolerance. An allergy to gluten products generally necessitates total elimination of the food from the diet (and prescription of injectable epinephrine, aka Epi-pen or Auvi-Q) due to concerns of severe, life threatening reactions.
Testing is important to rule out other factors as well. For example, some people don’t have a gluten allergy, per se; they might simply have an adverse reaction to an additive in a food, such as MSG. Other people lack an enzyme such as lactase, which causes lactose intolerance, and some of its symptoms mimic the symptoms of gluten intolerance.
An accurate diagnosis requires specific medical tests such as blood tests that measure levels of antibodies, anti-tissue transglutaminase antibody tests and anti-reticulin antibodies tests.
What Treatment Options Are Available?
The experts at The Food Allergy Center of Asthma and Allergy Associates include board-certified allergy/immunology specialists and a nutritionist. They will test for and treat allergies and sensitivities to gluten and related products like wheat, barley and rye. Although some people think the simple solution to gluten intolerance is to eliminate all gluten from the diet, this isn’t always advisable because a diet completely lacking in gluten is also deficient in important nutrients. So, our nutritionist can help with a balanced approach to a change in your diet. The experts at The Food Allergy Center of Asthma and Allergy Associates work with patients to develop a diet that doesn’t trigger allergic reactions while ensuring the proper intake of B vitamins, iron, fiber and other vitamins. These experts also work with patients to alleviate symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity, such as environmental allergies/sensitivities, sleep and other disorders.