How to Recover From Accidental Gluten Exposure

Tips That Will Help You Feel Better Faster

If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, then you've probably experienced at least one "glutening" in your life. Glutening refers to accidentally eating gluten and then experiencing symptoms of a gluten reaction. Those symptoms may start quickly (within minutes). In other cases. you may not see signs of a reaction until several days after ingesting gluten.

It doesn't take much gluten. A tiny amount—possibly even smaller than the eye can see—could trigger a variety of bodily reactions.

Symptoms of glutening are often digestive (abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation). However, gluten exposure can also cause headaches, anxiety, brain fog, skin rashes, or problems with a variety of body systems. These symptoms can last for days or weeks.

This article explains the steps you can take to feel better, even if you feel overwhelmed and powerless when you experience glutening. Follow these five tips.

1

Get Plenty of Rest

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Eric Audras/ Getty Images

Gluten exposure leads to a dreary combination of gluten-induced fatigue and insomnia in many people. It's tough to feel normal when you can't sleep at night and only want to sleep during the day.

The solution? Get as much rest as you possibly can—whenever you can grab it. If you're lucky enough to work at home, or if you have a flexible schedule, try to build in time for a daily 20-minute nap.

Even if you can't actually sleep, lying down and simply resting with your eyes closed may help. Try breathing deeply to clear your mind of any gluten-induced anxiety as you rest.

2

Avoid Difficult Tasks

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Les and Dave Jacobs/Getty Images

You may experience brain fog when you're exposed to gluten, leading to fuzzy-headedness, absent-mindedness, and sometimes outright confusion. Needless to say, that's not a good combination for tasks that involve decision-making or deep analysis.

If you're feeling the effects of gluten contamination, try to avoid those types of tasks. Reschedule what you possibly can. If you can't (which is the case for many), use plenty of caution when performing potentially dangerous tasks.

Extra sleep (again, if you can manage it) can help with brain fog. In most cases, though, you'll just have to wait for it to lift.

3

Skip Lactose-Containing Foods

lactose intolerance in celiac disease
Pixel Pig/Getty Images

If you've experienced a severe exposure, you may temporarily become lactose intolerant. This means you have difficulty digesting the natural sugars in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance occurs because you digest dairy proteins with the very tips of your intestinal villi. When you ingest gluten, you can damage those villi.

Lactose intolerance is common in people with celiac disease, especially among those newly diagnosed with celiac. However, many people report that they're better able to digest dairy again once they've followed a gluten-free diet for a while. This indicates that their villi can recover.

Lactose intolerance related to glutening is usually only temporary. Just make sure to avoid milk and products that contain milk such as yogurt, ice cream, and soft cheese until you feel recovered.

If your lactose intolerance continues indefinitely, there are over-the-counter remedies. Taking chewable tabs or non-chewable pills whenever you eat dairy may help you digest it. 

4

Revert to Whole Foods

gluten-free applesauce
Jamie Grill/Getty Images

When you're managing symptoms of glutening, it's not the time to try a new type of gluten-free product or to challenge your digestive tract with something radical. The best way to enjoy a speedy recovery is to revert to eating a whole-food diet that only includes foods you know don't bother you.

Many people do well on a modified "BRAT" diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Of course, you would need to substitute gluten-free toast, and skip the butter if you can't have dairy.

If you don't eat grains, the BRAT diet won't work for you. However, you can likely find something else easily digested to eat. Consider options such as a plain omelet or some chicken soup with vegetables.

5

Don't Take Chances

cookies tempting two children
PeopleImages/Getty Images

Of course, you should avoid the food that got you into trouble in the first place. So try to think backward and pay attention to what, exactly, might have been the trigger. 

Maintain a strict gluten-free diet and you're more likely to feel better sooner.

Take caution a step further, and avoid taking any chances while you're recovering. That means skipping restaurant meals, bringing your own food to friends' houses, and shutting down temptations to indulge in something that could be questionable.

Summary

Accidentally eating gluten can cause symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Getting extra sleep is essential to recovering from gluten-related fatigue and brain fog. With these symptoms, you should also avoid tasks such as making critical decisions. It’s common to have problems digesting milk and milk products after gluten exposure, so avoid dairy and any foods that you don’t know for sure are safe. Be prepared for symptoms to last a few days or longer.

A Word From Verywell

Getting glutened is no fun, but it can happen even to those who are the most careful on the gluten-free diet. When it does occur, your body will tell you to slow down so that it can recover. The best thing you can do is to listen and give your body a chance to bounce back.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do symptoms last with accidental gluten exposure?

    It can vary from person to person. One study found that symptoms for celiac patients ranged from one hour to eight days after accidental gluten exposure.

  • What foods should you avoid with celiac disease or gluten intolerance?

    You'll need to avoid wheat, rye, and barley, as well as wheat-containing foods like bulgur, couscous, durum flour, farina, graham flour, Kamut, semolina, and spelt. Since gluten is in so many different foods, your doctor or dietitian should work with you to help you learn what to avoid.

  • What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance?

    Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance are similar to those of celiac disease, including:

    • Bloating and gas
    • Abdominal pain
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Nausea
    • Brain fog
    • Joint pain
    • Headache
    • Fatigue
    • Anemia
    • Depression


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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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