Gluten allergy, or celiac disease, is a serious autoimmune disorder that affects the intestinal tract. Symptoms of gluten allergy include failure to thrive, nutritional deficiencies, irritability, decreased energy, pale bowel movements and gastrointestinal ailments. Celiac disease in children and adults can be treated only by avoiding all gluten-containing grains, including trace quantities.
Gluten allergy, or celiac disease, is not a traditional allergy. In children with celiac disease, gluten proteins trigger an autoimmune reaction in the small intestine. Over time, gluten damages the surface of the intestine, causing scarring, nutrient-absorption issues and, in some cases, bone disease, anemia and cancer. The damage is cumulative, with each exposure progressively worsening the health and functionality of the small intestine.
Gluten allergy can be diagnosed at any age, and it may occur at any point. The condition is lifelong, and children will not outgrow it. In some cases, gluten allergy is triggered by surgery, a viral illness, other chronic conditions or emotional stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. Celiac disease is more likely if an immediate family member has a gluten allergy.
Kids with celiac disease must avoid all gluten-containing foods. They must not consume any foods with wheat, barley or rye. This includes flour and foods made with flour, food starch and some additives and preservatives. You should also be certain that your child does not consume foods cross-contaminated with gluten; for example, don’t allow your child to eat food that has been prepared in the same pan used to cook breaded dishes. While naturally gluten-free, oats are frequently contaminated with wheat proteins. Choose whole foods, including lean protein, fruits and vegetables and grains like rice and corn to avoid potential traces of gluten.
A blood test for celiac disease tests for higher- than-normal levels of specific antibodies. If you have concerns that your child may have a gluten allergy, request a blood test. Your doctor may order an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine to confirm a diagnosis. It is important that you pursue testing for celiac disease before eliminating gluten from your child’s diet.
The only treatment for gluten allergy is to avoid all gluten. A strict elimination diet will allow the small intestine to heal. Inflammation will begin to subside within a few weeks, and the villi of the small intestine will regrow within a few months in younger patients, according to MayoClinic.com. If your child has nutritional deficiencies, your doctor may recommend gluten free vitamin supplementation.