Diagnosing Gluten Allergy
Diagnosing gluten allergy can be a tricky business. Gluten allergies cause a number of unpleasant symptoms in sufferers, including runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, a skin rash or hives, and sometimes stomach pain or discomfort. Of course, there are a number of other food substances that can cause similar allergic reactions. It is important to identify the substance that is causing the problem so the sufferer can avoid it and prevent symptoms.
Elimination DietSometimes the first thing doctors recommend when diagnosing gluten allergy is an elimination diet. On an elimination diet, the patient eliminates all foods containing gluten from his diet. This includes wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats (depending on who you talk to; some doctors believe oats contain gluten in amounts sufficient enough to cause problems and others don’t). People doing an elimination diet need to read food labels very carefully to make certain they are avoiding even the smallest amounts of gluten or else the results of the diet won’t be accurate.
If symptoms go away after a couple of weeks on an elimination diet, it is likely that the patient has gluten allergies. However, it is important to understand that there is a difference between gluten allergies, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease, although all three conditions will cause unpleasant symptoms when a person eats gluten. If symptoms improve on an elimination diet, that will not tell you which of the three conditions you have, and that may be important information to have. For instance, it is helpful to know if you have celiac disease or not because if you do, you should always avoid gluten in your diet because eating gluten can cause serious damage to your small intestine. Even if small amounts of gluten do not cause unpleasant symptoms, it can damage your intestine and should be avoided. If addition, if you have celiac disease, you may want to have your children tested for celiac because they will be at increased risk for the condition.
Skin Test for Diagnosing Gluten Allergy
Doctors often perform a skin test for diagnosing gluten allergy as well as other food and environmental allergies. The skin test may be performed on the arm or on the back. The skin is pricked with a needle containing a small amount of the suspect substance, in this case gluten. If the patient is allergic to gluten, he will experience a skin reaction. This may be the most reliable test for gluten allergy.
Blood Tests for Gluten Allergies
There are a number of blood tests that can check for antibodies that suggest a patient might have a gluten allergy, including transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) and anti-endomysium antibodies (EMA). These blood tests are often used to test for celiac disease, as well. If a patient has a positive skin test for gluten allergy, there is no need to do blood tests unless it is also suspected that he has celiac disease. If you are going to have one of these blood tests, do not eliminate gluten from your diet in the days immediately prior to the blood tests or the results may not be accurate.
An intestinal biopsy is usually used to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease, not gluten allergies. An intestinal biopsy involves removing a small bit of tissue from a patient’s small intestine and examining it under a microscope. A person with celiac disease usually has damage to the villi of the small intestine, the tiny hair-like structures that absorb nutrients from food. This damage prevents the patient from absorbing vitamins and minerals properly. However, someone allergic to gluten but without celiac disease would not have such damage. Therefore an intestinal biopsy is useful for diagnosing celiac disease but not for diagnosing gluten allergy.
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