Wheat, Gluten, Grain Allergy-Gluten Intolerance-Celiac Disease

The title of my post includes many different types of physical reactions to foods, but I will get to that in a minute. Today I’m going to start with a personal story which will be followed by some facts for better clarity and finally I will share with you the main purpose of this post.

Eleven months ago in October 2011, Alyssa and I spent a beautiful Saturday together at the Grave’s Mountain Apple Festival. It has been our “thing” to do since we moved to Richmond, Virginia, twelve years ago. On our way home, we visited the chickens, turkey and goats. We made priceless memories that day that will forever be engrained in my heart.

Before the end of the month, I developed a small rash on my face, so I tried the usual home remedies. When nothing seemed to be helping, I made an appointment with my dermatologist. Before I could see the doctor, the rash became so swollen, itchy and painful that I couldn’t bear it. A regular medical doctor said that I appeared to be allergic to something and gave me a prescription for oral steroids. The medication comes in a pill pack that starts with a high dose of steroids and tapers down to a very low dose toward the end of treatment. Oral steroids, Cortisone and Prednisone, prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation, so my rash with the accompanying pain subsided during the treatment.

A few days after taking the last dose of my oral steroids, the rash returned with a few bumps and increasing to a very swollen face with lots of rashy bumps. The bumps were raised slightly and not only ached, but felt like there were ants crawling under my skin. My rash felt hot to the touch at all times and my face was so swollen, it pulled my skin taut in different directions. The skin itself would become dry and flaky. Eventually my cheeks were totally raw and so swollen that they actually felt hard instead of soft and squishy.

I was miserable.

I fired my first dermatologist because she acted like my face wasn’t a big deal at all. That was not a good attitude to have towards someone who was suffering constantly. After finding another dermatologist, we started trying to figure out what was wrong with my face. She was sure I was “touching” something on my face and that it was causing this rash because I was allergic. So I changed all the products that ever touched my face – laundry detergent, make-up, hairspray, shampoo, conditioner, face cream, make-up remover and I eliminated all fabric softeners in my washer/dryer.

Nothing helped.

I returned to the dermatologist and a couple other medical doctors to get oral steroids to keep the rash at bay for eleven months. This scenario continued until this month on Thursday, September 6th. I awoke in the morning to find that I was profoundly affected and my esophagus was constricted. I felt like I was going to suffocate. I panicked because I felt powerless to help myself because no one else could determine the root cause of my agony. When my regular medical doctor took the blood test and confidently told me she KNEW I had a food allergy, I was not convinced. During that visit, she also gave me some heartburn medication.

My patience was tested because it took a week before the results of the blood test came back. Before I tell you what’s wrong with me, I want to give you some definitions of different conditions that often are confused with each other. Most people simply are misinformed and I can clarify the differences for you. Also, if you want to know about my allergy, I want you to have the real facts about this condition. Hopefully, this information will make you better informed about your health, body and other people who are afflicted with some of these conditions.

Let’s start with wheat allergies…

What Is A Wheat Allergy?

A wheat allergy is one of the top food allergies in the United States. When someone has a wheat allergy, their body is allergic to the proteins found in wheat. Gluten is one protein in wheat, but someone with a wheat allergy is allergic to all the proteins and not just gluten. These allergic reactions occur after the person eats wheat and can be mild to severe. Symptoms of a wheat allergy can include:

  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Lip swelling
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain

What Is A Corn Allergy?

A corn allergy is not a gluten allergy. Corn is a cereal grain and has many proteins. Not a lot of people are allergic to corn, but when they are, it can be very severe. Allergic reactions can occur as a result of eating both raw and cooked corn. People with a corn allergy or another cereal grain are often allergic to other grains. Symptoms of a corn allergy can include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Asthma attack
  • Itchy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety and a feeling of impending doom
  • Anaphylaxis

As you can well imagine, corn is used as an ingredient in many products such as:

  • Baking mixes
  • Corn starch (food thickener)
  • Sodas/fruit drinks (corn sugar)
  • Cosmetic base
  • Pill coating
  • Spice mixes

What is A Gluten Allergy?

A gluten allergy is an allergy to the gluten protein in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Not only can a person be allergic if they ingest the gluten protein, but they can also suffer an allergic reaction if they touch something that has gluten in it. Symptoms of a gluten allergy can include:

  • Chest pains
  • Runny nose
  • Severe gas
  • Asthma or trouble breathing
  • Tissue swelling
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Very irritable
  • Memory problems
  • Upset stomach
  • Itchy eyes
  • Symmetrical, intense burning and itching rashes with lesions found especially on knees, elbows, upper back, back of the neck and scalp, and the buttocks
  • Eczema
  • Hay fever
  • Hives

Gluten is used as an ingredient in many products such as:

  • Cosmetic powders
  • Cosmetic creams
  • Bread
  • Beer
  • Malt
  • Malt flavoring
  • Malt vinegar
  • Flour – wheat, white, durum, farina, graham, semolina, spelt
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cake
  • Brownies
  • Pie
  • Cereal
  • Matzo
  • Gravy
  • Imitation crab
  • Cookies
  • Chips – tortilla, potato
  • Crackers

I think you get the idea. Lots of stuff has gluten in it.

What Is A Gluten Intolerance?

If a sufferer has a gluten intolerance, they will most often have minor symptoms that do not cause significant damage or disruption to regular body functions. By eating a gluten-free diet, people with gluten intolerance will avoid uncomfortable, but non-life threatening symptoms that dissipate when the gluten is eliminated from the body. Symptoms of a gluten intolerance can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a permanent inherited condition where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue. The body becomes intolerant to wheat protein, oats, rye and barley. People who have Celiac disease often suffer from deficiencies because their body is unable to absorb the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and calories from their food. This disease will not be “outgrown” and requires a lifelong restriction of gluten from the diet. Symptoms of Celiac disease often takes years to develop. Symptoms of Celiac disease can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Irritable bowel

This disease is too often under-diagnosed in the United States.

As a side note – The part of the immune system that is triggered by allergic reactions is different from the part of the immune system that is responsible for the autoimmune reactions of Celiac disease.

What Is A Grain Allergy?

A grain allergy is an allergic reaction to the proteins (not just the gluten protein) found in all grains. Let me repeat that – all grains, not just wheat or corn. Symptoms of a grain allergy can include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Asthma attack
  • Itchy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Bronchospasm
  • Headaches
  • Anaphylaxis

There are many grains that have to be avoided by anyone that has a grain allergy. Any food product that includes ANY of the grains has to be permanently removed from the diet. Some of the most popular grains include:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat berries
  • Cracked wheat (Bulgur)
  • Farro
  • Kamut
  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Polenta
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt berries
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat

Will You Just Finish The Story?

When I received the phone call from my doctor on Thursday morning before I left for work, I was scared and excited all at once. After finding out, I was very shocked and was so upset that I couldn’t even cry. For the next two days, I barely ate and was in mourning for the loss of a style of eating that I have become accustomed to for nearly fifty years. The blood test came back with an extremely conclusive result that I have developed a grain allergy with the worst being wheat, corn and oats.

Did you just grasp what I said?

Because of the suffocation factor last time I had a reaction, I immediately quit eating all grains on Thursday, September 13th. Seven days later, my rash is one hundred percent gone, the swelling has subsided completely and the ant-crawling feeling disappeared after ELEVEN months of pain. On top of that, I feel extremely energetic! I’m still quite sad that I can’t simply go into the kitchen and make a sandwich, wrap some chicken in a tortilla, whip up a cake or a million other things that I have cooked all my life. Not only has this been a physical adjustment, but it has also been a mental adjustment that required an incredible amount of self-talk. After much research, I’ve found that there are alternatives to grain flours used in cooking and I won’t have to adjust my recipes that much either. So going forward, I will offer the “regular” recipe and the “new grain free” recipe for each food I cook. I really do need to write a cookbook now. ?

There is also another positive side of this diagnosis. Maybe you remember my post called Abs, Legs, Thighs, Hips And Cute Buns. One of the side effects of not eating grain is weight loss. So the fat that was on my tummy…well, it is quickly disappearing. By next weekend I will probably have dropped a whole pants size. With the fat dropping off, the 6 pack abs are going to be much easier to obtain. It may not happen by my 50th birthday in January, but it will be a reality sometime next year.

So all-in-all, I’m doing tremendously better and my outlook on food is not so grim as it was right after the doctor called. I still have my moments of sadness, but I’m not near as sad as I was terrified when my esophagus was swelling up and cutting off my air supply. The mystery has finally been solved. I have an allergy to ALL grains which I now avoid and my face is once again creamy white like my header photo. ?

Can you believe it took so many doctors that long to determine my grain allergy?

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