Is Celiac Disease An Allergy?
An allergy typically invokes the production of antibodies (proteins secreted by cells of the immune system, which protect us from infections), also called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies circulate through our blood stream and trigger an immediate immune response called an allergic reaction. IgE antibodies release chemicals called histamines which produce symptoms like swelling, asthma, itching, inflammation, breathlessness, tightness in the chest, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and even a fatal reaction called anaphylactic shock. These reactions may occur immediately or may take up to a few hours to manifest.
A person allergic to wheat can have an anaphylactic reaction, even if a few particles are floating around in the air. Wheat is one of the top eight food allergens.
While there is an immune response in celiac disease, the nature is different. Firstly, it is a delayed reaction. Secondly, it does not involve IgE antibodies and histamines, and its symptoms persist for a longer period.
In wheat allergy, the gastrointestinal symptoms may be similar (mild to severe) but the immune reaction or allergy does not destroy the intestinal lining. Therefore, there is no malabsorption. Usually, one may outgrow wheat allergy with time. Celiac disease on the other hand is a permanent, adverse reaction to gluten and requires a lifelong restriction to gluten.