Coeliac Disease & Wheat Allergy

Nutritional information on a food product

Is Coeliac Disease and Wheat Allergy the Same Thing?

The simple answer is no.

A wheat allergy is an adverse reaction involving your immune system to one or more of the protein fractions in wheat. It may occur as a result of ingesting wheat or products containing wheat; or certain occupations (i.e. in bakers) may develop a respiratory condition as a result of inhaling large amounts of unprocessed wheat. Symptoms include gastrointestinal reactions, asthma, eczema or, in rare severe reactions, anaphylaxis.

Coeliac disease, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, resulting in damage to the small intestine. It results from ingestion of gluten, one of the proteins found in wheat.

The majority of allergic reactions involving wheat are caused by the albumin and globulin fractions of the protein; the gluten fraction only rarely causes an allergic reaction.

Wheat allergies are relatively uncommon and are usually outgrown by adulthood.

The gluten-free and wheat-free diets are quite similar as both involve the exclusion of wheat from the diet. Coeliacs following the gluten-free diet must also avoid barley and rye. Those with wheat allergies may also react to rye and/or other sources of gluten including barley, oats and rye. Wheat-free diets exclude wheat based products and also products whose ingredients are derived from wheat, e.g. glucose syrup. People following a wheat-free diet must adhere to the same levels of cross-contamination prevention as those following a gluten-free diet. Codex wheat starch is not suitable for consumption by those with a wheat allergy as it is only the gluten content of these foods that is significantly reduced.

Legislation states that all ‘ingredients that are known to cause allergies’ must be declared on the label with clear reference to the name of the ingredient from which they originate. So careful label reading can help identify products containing wheat.

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Thank you to all those who took part in the Coeliac Society of Ireland Christmas Raffle 2013.

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