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Are Red Spots on the Skin a Gluten Allergy?

By Lynn MacPherson ; Updated August 14, 2017

Red spots on your skin can be a symptom that needs further investigation, especially if the spots are persistent and the cause unresolved. While hives on your skin could be an allergic reaction to wheat, an itchy skin rash could be a symptom of a condition that correlates with gluten sensitivity, making it hard to distinguish between the two.

Wheat Allergy vs. Gluten Sensitivity

In allergies, the immune system reacts to an outside substance, whereas in autoimmune disorders, the immune system mistakenly attacks normal body tissue, according to Medline Plus. This is the difference between a wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity — the reaction to wheat is an allergy; the reaction to gluten, one particular protein in wheat, is an autoimmune reaction, according to MayoClinic.com. Other names for this autoimmune reaction are gluten sensitivity, gluten-sensitive enteropathy or celiac disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a wheat allergy, according to MayoClinic.com, can include swelling, itching, hives, difficulty breathing, nasal congestion and, in extreme cases, anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction. A gluten sensitivity that manifests as red spots on the skin is called dermatits herpetiformis, a form of celiac disease. Dermatitis herpetiformis is an itchy, blistering skin rash that occurs on the torso, buttocks and scalp. Dermatitis herpetiformis can also cause changes to the small intestines that make certain essential nutrients harder to absorb. Diagnostic testing may be required to distinguish between the two conditions.

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Treatment

The treatment of a wheat allergy involves avoidance of wheat and, in severe cases, carrying an injectable dose of epinephrine in case of anaphylaxis. Some individuals do, however, grow out of a wheat allergy. In the case of gluten sensitivity, according to Medline Plus, an antibiotic called dapsone is used to treat the dermatitis herpetiformis. In addition to this, a lifelong gluten-free diet should be adhered to, as the antibiotics treat the skin condition, but not the intestinal issues that can occur from gluten sensitivity.

Other Causes

In addition to a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity, there are also other conditions that can cause red spots or a rash on the skin. Others listed by Medline Plus are dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, impetigo, shingles, childhood diseases such as chicken pox and measles, as well as insect bites or stings. Because it can be hard to distinguish the cause of red spots or a red rash, if it is persistent, consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

Avoidance

Avoiding gluten can be difficult because it can be in many processed foods. A product stating it contains no wheat does not necessarily mean it does not contain gluten, because gluten can be derived from other grains, such as barley or rye. Because manufacturers often go through extra steps to ensure a product is gluten-free, they typically will label their products as gluten-free. Avoiding wheat can be a little easier. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, according to the FDA, requires manufacturers to list the eight major allergens on food packaging, which includes wheat.

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