Month: April 2015

Is it Wheat Allergy, Gluten Sensitivity, or Celiac Disease?

Over the past decade, more people are interested in gluten-free diets in order to get relief from a variety of symptoms.  It is therefore important to know a little about the differences between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and true wheat allergy.

CELIAC DISEASE (CELIAC SPRUE; NONTROPICAL SPRUE; GLUTEN ENTEROPATHY):

Gluten is a protein normally present in wheat, rye, and barley.  Gluten is what gives dough its elasticity, ability to rise, and contributes to the dough’s chewiness.  It is found mainly in foods, but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, hair products, vitamins, cosmetics, lipsticks and lip balms, and other dermatologic preparations.  Gluten is found in so many unexpected foods as additives and can be found in unsuspecting foods such as beer, ketchup, ice cream, soy sauce, processed lunch meats, to name a few.  Celiac disease is a hereditary (runs in families) autoimmune disorder of the small intestine found in all age groups (infancy through adulthood) that occurs in approximately as many as 3 million Americans.  It occurs when people with celiac disease eat gluten.   Their body’s immune system reacts to the gluten by attacking the lining of their small intestine.  The immune system’s reaction to gluten damages small, fingerlike growths called villi.  When the villi are damaged, the body cannot get the nutrients it needs.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include:

  • Abdominal pain/cramping
  • Flatulence/bloating
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Extreme tiredness/fatigue
  • Change in mood/depression/irritability
  • Weight loss/decreased appetite
  • Joint pains
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Osteoporosis due to decreased absorption of calcium
  • Very itchy skin rash with blisters (Dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Delayed growth in children

The diagnosis is suspected when blood tests detect elevated levels of certain antibodies to gluten.  An upper endoscopy is needed to confirm the diagnosis, as one needs a biopsy that shows the abnormal villi of the small intestine.

The only treatment for celiac disease at this time is avoidance of gluten in diet.  When it is no longer exposed to gluten, the villi of the small intestine heal and can absorb nutrients again.

NON-CELIAC GLUTEN SENSITIVITY (NCGS) (GLUTEN SENSITIVITY; GLUTEN INTOLERANCE):

“Non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (NCGS) is used to describe individuals who cannot tolerate gluten as they experience the same symptoms as those with celiac disease.   The main difference is that individuals with NCGS do not have the gluten antibodies in the blood and there is no villi damage in the small intestine as is seen in celiac disease.  Research suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an innate immune response (nonspecific first line of defense), as opposed to an adaptive immune response (or “learned” response such as an autoimmune reaction) or allergic reaction.  As many as 18 million Americans may have NCGS.

People with NCGS can also have other symptoms such as headache, “foggy” feeling in the head, lack of concentration, and numbness in the legs, arms, and/ or fingers.  Symptoms typically appear hours or days after gluten has been ingested, a response typical for innate immune conditions.

New research shows that it is possible that gluten may not even be responsible for the symptoms produced by NCGS.  FODMAP’s (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols), a group of poorly digested carbohydrates, may be the cause of the symptoms instead.  It is also interesting to note that wheat, rye and barley – the 3 grains that contain gluten – are all high in FODMAP’s.  Even though wheat, rye, and barley contain high amounts of FODMAP carbohydrates, many other foods such as peaches, apples, beets, garlic, onion, asparagus, kidney beans, soybeans, milk, ice cream, and many sweeteners (fructose, mannitol, agave, sorbitol, etc.) also contain high amounts of FODMAP’s.

There are currently no confirmatory tests for NCGS and the diagnosis is by ruling out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.  As stated above, blood tests and biopsies that are positive with celiac disease are normal in these individuals.  Improvement of one’s symptoms when gluten is removed from the diet makes NCGS more likely.  However, there is a risk of self-diagnosis and starting oneself on a gluten-free diet.   The risk is that there may be a serious gastrointestinal and/or other disorder that will be missed without the proper work-up.  It is therefore important for individuals with these symptoms to see their physicians so that serious disorders can be ruled out by using proper testing to exclude them.  Assuming there is no other disorder, a gluten-free diet and a FODMAP-free diet may be beneficial.

WHEAT ALLERGY:

One or more of the wheat proteins, albumin, globulin, gliadin, or gluten, can cause an allergic reaction involving IgE antibodies.  The reactions usually take place within a few minutes to several hours after exposure to the allergen.  The symptoms may include some or all of the following:  itching in the mouth, swelling of lips and/or tongue, hives, eczema, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, tightening of the throat and/or trouble breathing, wheezing, drop in blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, abdominal pain, and/or anaphylaxis.

A thorough medical history and physical examination in conjunction with skin prick tests and/or allergen-specific IgE blood testing are useful in the diagnosis of wheat allergy.  A food challenge may be necessary in some individuals.  For wheat allergy, strict avoidance of wheat and wheat products is necessary.

Although classic IgE-mediated allergic reactions are most common with wheat, non-IgE-mediated reactions to wheat may occur, usually with a slower onset of symptoms and these symptoms are generally confined to the gastrointestinal tract.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy can provide answers to your questions and offer evidence based diagnostic and treatment options.  We have been serving the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area for many years.  We have office locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  Each of our 3 convenient office locations has on-site parking and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are easily accessible by the Metro.  Black & Kletz Allergy has been diagnosing and treating wheat and other food allergies for over 50 years.  We also have the expertise to help diagnose and treat many gastrointestinal diseases associated with allergies and autoimmune disorders as well as rule out food allergies as a source of your gastrointestinal problems.  Please call our office for an appointment if you have any of the above symptoms or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will be in touch with you within 24 hours of the next business day.

Asthma in the Spring

Asthma is chronic inflammatory condition of the airways of the lungs.  Asthma can affect both allergic and non-allergic individuals.   There is an increased risk of developing asthma if there is a family history of asthma or allergies.  Most people that have asthma also have allergic rhinitis (hay fever).  On the other hand, about half of the individuals that have allergic rhinitis also have asthma.  About 8% of the U.S. population has asthma.  Asthma is the most common chronic condition in children.  Asthma prevalence has been increasing over the last few decades.  The average child with asthma misses between 4 to 5 days of school per year due to asthma.  The average adult with asthma misses about 5 days of work per year due to asthma.  The annual cost on the U.S. healthcare system just due to asthma is about $20 billion.  There is an additional $10 billion per year added to the healthcare system just due to allergies alone.  The statistics above are staggering and people with allergies and asthma need to realize how prevalent their diseases are and that allergists (who specialize in treating allergies and asthma) can help reduce their suffering and help reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and admissions to the hospital, which greatly increase the costs of these diseases.

As we are in the Spring season, many individuals with allergic asthma may begin to experience a worsening of their asthma.  The symptoms that one experiences typically can be any or all of the following:  wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and/or cough.

Asthma can be life-threatening and it is imperative that one is taught about the symptoms and what should be done depending on the severity of one’s symptoms.

It is important that the asthmatic individual understand their triggers and to try to avoid the offending trigger.  In the Spring, tree pollens, grass pollens, and molds are largely responsible for causing asthma exacerbations.  It is thus important for individuals with asthma to practice pollen avoidance measures which include the following recommendations:

  1. Monitor pollen counts daily.
  2. Stay indoors wherever possible when the pollen count is high (generally on dry warmer days).  Note that rain washes pollen from the air causing pollen counts to be lower on wet cooler days.
  3. Since pollen is released in the early mornings, try to avoid exercising during this time.
  4. Avoid drying clothes outdoors when the pollen count is elevated.
  5. Avoid contact lenses which may trap pollen in one’s eyes.
  6. Turn on the air conditioner and change air filters regularly (about once a month).
  7. Keep one’s windows and sunroof closed.
  8. Use the re-circulate feature in the car so that the air is not coming into the vehicle from the outside.
  9. Choose an automobile that has a filter in its air conditioning unit, if possible.
  10. Avoid yard work and mowing lawns.  If a person needs to do yard work, wear a filtration face mask in order to diminish exposure to the pollen.
  11. If one goes outdoors, shower, wash one’s hair, and change one’s clothing upon returning home to decrease pollen exposure.
  12. Wash your pets regularly and avoid close contact with a pet that goes outdoors during the pollen season since they carry pollen on their coats.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have the expertise in diagnosing and treating asthma in adults and children.  We have been treating the people of the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area for more than 50 years.  It is important that the allergist take a thorough history and examination from the individual as not everyone that has “asthma symptoms” ends up having asthma.  There is an important saying in medicine which states that “All that wheezes is not asthma.”  This means that there are many other medical conditions that can present with wheezing that are not asthma.  Some of these medical conditions include heart disease, COPD (emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis), GERD (acid reflux), etc.  Once diagnosed, there are a multitude of treatment options to control one’s asthma.  The allergists and staff at Black & Kletz Allergy are diligent in educating the patient with asthma on what to look for and how to assess their severity of disease at any given time.  An asthma plan is discussed with individuals and inhaler technique is demonstrated to the patients.  Research shows that patients notoriously use their inhalers incorrectly unless they are shown the correct method.  Medications used to treat asthma can include several types and classes of lung inhalers, tablets, capsules, syrups, granules, and Xolair (omalizumab) injections in select patients.  Allergy shots (i.e., allergy immunotherapy, allergy injections) are a very effective way to treat asthma and have been used very successfully for more than 100 years.  The allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy also make themselves available 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week for any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your allergies and/or asthma.

If you would like a consultation for your asthma symptoms, please call us at Black & Kletz Allergy to make an appointment.  Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will get back in touch with you within 24 hours of the next business day.  We have 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC metropolitan area with office locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA) and Manassas, VA.  There is parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are also accessible by using the Metro.  We would be happy to assist you in diagnosing your asthma symptoms and helping you manage your asthma so that you can participate in the things you enjoy without the constant fear of your asthma symptoms.