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Understanding Wheat Allergies In Babies

April 13, 2022 4 min read

As the most common grain in the US, wheat can be found in many delicious foods and snacks that we feed our infants and toddlers - like cereals, hot dogs, and cookies. 

But with rising wheat allergy rates, wheat has been identified as one of the nine most common food allergens in the United States. A wheat allergy not only affects your child's nutritional health but can have rippling effects on their quality of life, from living in fear around food to feeling restricted in their daily activities. 

That’s why at SpoonfulONE we’re on a mission to fight these rising rates. Ready to learn more? Here’s what parents need to know about wheat allergies.

How Common Is A Wheat Allergy In Babies?

Affected by both genetic and environmental factors, a food allergy occurs when your child's immune system decides that a certain food is a "danger" to their health. Their immune system starts sending out immunoglobulin E (or IgE) antibodies that react to the food and cause an allergic reaction.

A wheat allergy is most common in children, affecting up to 1% of children in the U.S. Though other grains, such as oat, rye, or barley, can also cause allergic reactions.

And every year, food allergy rates are increasing. The CDC reports that the prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, with as many as 6 million children in the United States developing some form of food allergy. 

What Does A Wheat Allergy Look Like?

Sometimes it may be difficult to tell a wheat allergy apart from a gluten intolerance like celiac disease. While an allergy is an immune response, celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that reacts to the presence of gluten, resulting in inflammation. 

Though an intolerance is not the same as an allergy, you still can experience some of the same symptoms, such as an upset stomach. It is important to work with your physician to get an accurate diagnosis. 

For an allergy, reactions can range from mild, like sneezing or itching, to severe, like swelling or anaphylaxis that results in difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure that sends the body into shock. 

Most food-related allergy symptoms occur within minutes of eating, but allergic reactions can still occur within 2-4 hours of ingestion. Signs that your baby has developed a wheat allergy may include:

  • Stomach distress including vomiting, cramps, indigestion, or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Repetitive cough, hoarse voice, or tightness in the throat
  • Hives, red skin, or swelling around the face, mouth, or tongue
  • Confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • In rare cases, anaphylaxis

If your child has shown a reaction to wheat, you should have your pediatrician test for a food allergy. Common testing methods include a skin prick test, IgE testing, and an oral food challenge. 

Long-Lasting Effects Of A Wheat Allergy

According to the ACAAI, about 40% of children with a food allergy are allergic to more than one food. While having a wheat allergy does not necessarily mean your child will be allergic to other popular grains, you may want to check with your pediatrician if they might also be allergic to barley, oats, and rye.

Many children will outgrow their wheat allergy, with one study showing that 65% of children with a wheat allergy outgrow it by age 12. But there is no guarantee that your child will outgrow their food allergies, and some persist into adulthood and become lifelong.

Lastly, studies have shown that children with a food allergy are two to four times as likely to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.

How To Manage Wheat Allergies

A staple ingredient, wheat can be found in many foods and snacks and can be very difficult to avoid. 

However, if your child is allergic to wheat, they will need to avoid all wheat and wheat-containing foods, often found in foods such as:

  • Wheat berries, flour, bran, grass and other products with “wheat”  in the name
  • Bread and breaded foods
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Cakes, muffins, cookies and other baked goods 
  • Flour and baking mixes
  • Ice cream and other dairy products
  • Potato chips
  • Candy
  • Soy sauce
  • Many spices, sauces, and salad dressings
  • Processed meats and hot dogs
  • Soup

Play-Doh, as well as many cosmetic or bath products also contain wheat as an ingredient. 

Wheat is required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 to be listed in clear language on the ingredient label by manufacturers of packaged food products. However, it is important to be aware that cross-contamination can occur where products are manufactured on shared equipment with wheat and other grains.

How To Avoid A Wheat Allergy In Babies

We know that no parent wants to see their child suffer from food allergies, but unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they can be avoided. 

However, there is still hope. Groundbreaking clinical studies, like LEAP and EAT, have taught us that babies who were given potentially allergenic foods as a regular part of their diet were less likely to develop a food allergy. 

According to the AAP and the USDA’s latest guidelines, you can (and should!) start introducing allergenic foods, like grains, to your baby alongside other solids. In fact, experts now consider it safe for your child to start allergen introduction as early as four months, rather than later in life. 

At SpoonfulONE, we believe regular, consistent exposure to common allergens in the diet throughout early childhood is key to staying healthy.