What Is a Wheat Allergy?

Not to Be Confused With Gluten Intolerance

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A wheat allergy is one of the most common food allergies in the United States, affecting around one of every 250 adults and one of every 200 children.

While a wheat allergy most often develops in early childhood, people can manifest with symptoms at any stage of their life, including later adulthood. However, the later in life you develop a wheat allergy, the more likely you will be faced with a permanent condition.

By contrast, most children with a wheat allergy will outgrow it by the age of 12.

Types and Symptoms of Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy symptoms can vary in severity from a mild, flu-like condition to a life-threatening, all-body reaction (known as anaphylaxis).

The speed by which symptoms develop can also vary. With an IgE-mediated reaction, in which the body responds to an antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), the symptoms can occur within minutes or hours of eating wheat. With a non-IgE-mediated reaction, symptoms may not appear until a day or two later as a result of other components of the immune system aside from IgE​

A wheat allergy can affect one or several organ systems at once and may include:

  • Digestive symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Respiratory symptoms, including rhinitis, asthma, wheezing, and respiratory distress
  • Dermatologic symptoms including eczema, hives, blisters, and the swelling of the hands and face
  • Oropharyngeal symptoms including mouth and throat itchiness, coughing, and the swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Neurological symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, and seizures

Fever is a common component of many of these symptoms. In more severe forms of anaphylaxis, people will commonly describe a "feeling of impending doom" in relation to their deteriorating state.

Managing Your Wheat Allergy

As with all food allergies, the management of a wheat allergy involves the complete avoidance of wheat in any form. This can be difficult since wheat is found in a plethora of everyday products from cereals and bread to cookies and pasta. In fact, around 75 percent of all grain products in the U.S. is comprised of wheat, making this a particularly tough allergy to manage.​​

To address the growing concern, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all wheat-containing food products to be properly labeled so that consumers can avoid them if needed.

It is also important to note that, while the majority of gluten-free foods are also wheat-free, not all are. So, as with any other food product, it is vital you check the food label and avoid the mistake of thinking that "gluten-free" and "wheat-free" are the same thing. They are not.

To differentiate, gluten is a protein found in many different types of grain. Persons who are gluten-intolerant are those who experience a reaction when exposed to all grains of the Pooideae subfamily, including wheat, barley, rye, and oats.

By contrast, persons diagnosed with a wheat allergy—meaning wheat specifically—will only react to wheat and usually be fine with barley, rye, or oats.

How to Spot Hidden Wheat

Even though wheat must be clearly labeled on food labels in the U.S., there are times when it can be hidden in the ingredients list. Here are some of the terms used by manufacturers which ultimately mean wheat even if it isn't clearly spelled out:

  • Flour
  • Enriched Flour
  • Gluten
  • High-gluten flour
  • High-protein flour
  • Wheat germ
  • Farina
  • Semolina
  • Drum
  • Modified starch
  • Bran
  • Graham flour
  • Couscous
  • Cracker crumbs
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farro
  • Kamut
  • Seitan
  • Fu
  • Spelt
  • Triticale

Manufacturers will also use the phrase "may contain wheat," or "made in a facility that processes wheat." If your reaction to wheat has been severe enough to require emergency care or hospitalization, you will likely want to steer clear of these products just to be safe.

The same applies to certain cosmetics, hair care products, vitamins, and pet foods which may contain trace amounts of wheat and accidentally contaminate your hands or cooking surfaces.


Gupta, R. and Springston, E. "The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States." Pediatrics. 2011; 128(1): e9-e17. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-0204.

Joneja, J. (2013) The Health Professional’s Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances (First Ed). Chicago, Illinois: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.