Although both conditions result in an adverse reaction to wheat consumption, the causes, symptoms, and treatment differ greatly.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which consumption of gluten (a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye) causes damage to the small intestine. The immune systems of people with celiac disease mistakenly attack their own body tissues, leading to inflammation and destruction of the intestinal villi, which are essential for the absorption of nutrients. This can cause a wide range of gastrointestinal symptoms (such as diarrhea, bloating, and malabsorption) and extraintestinal symptoms (such as anemia, fatigue, and rashes), depending on the individual.
Treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong strict gluten-free diet, which allows most people to manage symptoms and promote gut healing.
Wheat allergy, on the other hand, is an allergic reaction to one or more of the proteins found in wheat, including but not limited to gluten. This type of allergy is part of the mechanism of food allergic reactions, which involves the immune system in an immediate or delayed response against wheat proteins. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include hives, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical intervention.
Management of wheat allergy requires completely eliminating wheat from the diet, and unlike celiac disease, people with wheat allergy must also be wary of other products that may contain traces of wheat. Additionally, medications may be prescribed to treat or prevent reactions if accidentally ingested.
• Cause: Celiac disease is an autoimmune intolerance to gluten, while wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to wheat proteins.
• Symptoms: Both can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, but wheat allergy can also cause typical allergic reactions such as hives and difficulty breathing.
• Treatment: Both require the elimination of wheat (and in the case of celiac disease, all gluten-containing foods) from the diet, but wheat allergy may also require the use of medications such as antihistamines or epinephrine in case of reactions serious.