Look out for these gluten allergy symptoms if you’re not feeling quite right

When you think of gluten allergy symptoms, you probably know the basics: Stomach issues? Check. Bloating? Double-check. Gas? You got it. But even though these are common signs of gluten sensitivity, they’re not the end-all-be-all of how gluten can affect your diet.

Don’t let this frighten you, though. If you feel like you’ve experienced some of the above symptoms, that’s okay. Our bodies go through many changes as we age, so we’re bound to experience a little turbulence every now and then—it just means we should be mindful of the changes and go to the doctor when things don’t feel right. That said, gluten allergy symptoms are a big pain.

If you have an inkling that your body hasn’t been receptive to gluten as of late but aren’t 100% sure—don’t worry, we got you. We connected with a few experts to bring to light the gluten allergy symptoms you should look out for if you’re concerned about your health.

One thing to note: According to a 2015 study, the vast majority of people who think they’re sensitive to gluten (more than 85%) aren’t actually gluten-intolerant at all. So if you’re having what you think are gluten allergy symptoms, keep an open mind and talk to your doctor—you might be dealing with another issue entirely. And of course, this is no substitute for medical advice—consult a physician if you think something’s not right.

What’s the difference between celiac disease and a gluten allergy?

While celiac disease (CD) and gluten allergies do share similar symptoms, there are a few small, but serious, differences between the two. According to registered dietitian Tamar Samuels, “Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten triggers the immune system to attack the small intestines, where gluten and other nutrients are absorbed.” Once this occurs, this damages the absorptive cells of the small intestine, which can cause serious health conditions over time. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), on the other hand, is considered a medical condition but is not an autoimmune reaction. No tests can identify NCGS, but it can be diagnosed when people are experiencing symptoms after eating gluten.

You may also find yourself experiencing an allergic reaction to wheat. In that case, Samuels says that you might not be sensitive to gluten, but rather have a true wheat allergy. “A wheat allergy is an immune reaction to any of the hundreds of proteins found in wheat (not just gluten as seen in CD). People with wheat allergy produce a specific type of immune protein in response to wheat ingestions called immunoglobulin E. This allergic response happens quickly and can involve a number of symptoms, including nausea, abdominal pain, itching, swelling of the lips and tongue, to trouble breathing. A person with a wheat allergy must avoid eating any form of wheat, but does not have trouble tolerating gluten from non-wheat sources,” says Samuels.

What are some gluten allergy symptoms?

While gluten allergy symptoms are not dangerous, they do cause a lot of discomfort. “Gluten sensitivity means your blood test for celiac and/or small intestinal biopsy came back negative, but you still have negative symptoms after eating gluten, like gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, or fatigue. Some folks will complain about symptoms stemming from bone or joint pain to brain fog to headaches. These are gluten sensitivity symptoms, not celiac disease symptoms. Gluten sensitivity is more prevalent than celiac disease. Removing gluten for these folks will improve digestive symptoms and can even improve mental clarity, sleep, and memory,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian in New York City.

What happens if I have some of these symptoms?

Don’t panic, but do check in with your doctor to see what your next best options are for your diet and make sure your intolerance is just, well, an intolerance. “If you think you might be sensitive to gluten, a great first step is getting a work-up from your doctor for celiac disease and wheat allergy. The most common tests include blood tests for antibodies, skin testing, and endoscopy with intestinal biopsy. After you have ruled out celiac disease and wheat allergy, you can see if you are gluten sensitive by eliminating gluten for 30-60 days and reintroducing it to see if you have any symptoms,” says Samuels. 

What nutritional alternatives would you recommend for someone who has a gluten intolerance?

After a medical professional has confirmed that you have a gluten intolerance, you’ll want to start including nutritious, gluten-free alternatives into your diet. Beckerman recommends chickpea-based pasta (which is high in protein and fiber and can help keep your blood sugar levels steady), rice, quinoa, and sorghum. Just make sure all of these alternatives are made in a gluten-free facility to prevent potential cross-contamination.