Overview of Gluten Allergy

hands breaking wheat stalks in half
What exactly is a 'gluten allergy'?. Jacob VanHouten/Getty Images

It depends on what kind of so-called "gluten allergy" you actually have since there are numerous different conditions that people now call "gluten allergies."

First, the basics: gluten is a form of plant protein found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten also is found in the vast majority of foods containing ingredients made from these grains.

While it's possible to have a true allergic reaction to the gluten protein in wheat, such an allergy is generally referred to as a wheat allergy, not a gluten allergy.

Unofficially, though, many people use the term "gluten allergy" interchangeably with the terms celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, two separate conditions that involve two different immune system reactions to gluten.

Neither celiac disease nor non-celiac gluten sensitivity is technically an "allergy" — allergies generally involve near-immediate symptoms such as sneezing and itching, while reactions to celiac and gluten sensitivity are more often delayed and involve gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms.

But as awareness of the gluten-free diet has grown, some people with celiac or gluten sensitivity have found it simpler to tell people that they have a "gluten allergy" rather than take the time to explain their conditions.

After all, most people understand the concept of an "allergy" (and may actually have allergies themselves), and so might more instinctively understand the need to avoid the offending substance completely. 

The treatment for celiac and gluten sensitivity — total avoidance of the offending substance — is the same as the treatment for an allergy, even though celiac and gluten sensitivity are not true allergies.

Some people in the gluten-free community are bothered by those who call their condition an "allergy." But it honestly doesn't bother me, since using the term allergy can help people (such as servers in restaurants) more easily understand what otherwise would be a long and possibly confusing explanation.

Also Known As: gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, celiac disease

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