How Are Wheat Allergy, Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease Different?


It’s common to be unsure whether symptoms that come from eating a potential food allergen are a result of a food allergy or from a different cause, such as an intolerance. This confusion can come into play with reactions to wheat. While all three involve symptoms as a reaction to eating wheat, a wheat allergy, gluten intolerance and celiac disease are distinct from one another. Let’s take a look at the differences.

Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy is the only reaction to wheat that is actually an allergy. If a child has a wheat allergy, specific proteins in wheat cause their body to produce antibodies in response. If this happens, the child can experience symptoms of allergy soon after eating a food with wheat in it, such as bread, cereal, pasta or pastries. The timeframe can range from minutes to hours after eating the allergen.

Symptoms of wheat allergy can include trouble breathing, headache and nasal congestion. Your child could experience symptoms affecting the skin, including swelling, hives or an itchy rash. The mouth and throat can itch, swell and experience irritation. Also, your child could have digestive symptoms including cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Finally, a wheat allergy can bring the severe symptom of anaphylaxis, which can include throat tightness or swelling, severe difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, chest tightness or pain, blue-tinged skin color, dizziness or fainting. Get immediate medical care if you notice signs of anaphylaxis, as it is a life-threatening condition. If you have access to an epinephrine auto-injector, such as EpiPen, use it and then seek medical attention.

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten intolerance is also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While similar to another reaction to gluten called celiac disease, it is not as severe. It is also distinct from a wheat allergy. The mechanisms of gluten sensitivity are not entirely understood.

Nonetheless, the symptoms are connected to eating foods with gluten, showing up soon after ingestion. Gluten is found in wheat, wheat derivatives like spelt and certain other grains such as barley and rye.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance can vary and come in different combinations. Nonetheless, commonly reported symptoms include consistent constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, headaches and fatigue.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease also involves a reaction to gluten, so your child would react to similar foods as with a gluten intolerance. However, celiac disease is more severe. This is a genetic immune disease. If your child eats gluten, their immune system has the unhealthy reaction of damaging the small intestine.

Symptoms of celiac disease often take place in the digestive system, yet they can impact other systems. Symptoms can vary in each person. In children, irritability is a common symptom of celiac disease. This disease may also show itself in the form of abdominal pain, diarrhea or depression. Instead, it’s possible not to experience symptoms.


If your child shows symptoms after consuming wheat or foods that contain wheat or gluten, they could have a wheat allergy, gluten intolerance or celiac disease. You may get an idea of which one would be most likely depending on the symptoms your child experiences. Nonetheless, it’s important to get an official diagnosis from a medical professional. This will help you understand specifically what is causing the problem and how to go about managing it.