Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is gluten causing your seasonal allergies?


From page B3 | April 24, 2013 | 14 Comments

If I’m sneezing, this must be April.

Like most people with seasonal allergies, my histamine crisis normally begins in the spring, as soon as plumes of pollen fill the air.

Sneezing, nose-blowing, eye-rubbing and throat-scratching go on and on until summer heat pulls the plug on pollen production.

My torment is not from grass, pets, molds or anything I eat or wear. Allergy tests show my nemesis is the pollen from common trees — oaks, elms, hackberries, mulberries, sycamores, maples, etc.

Fortunately, after 35 years of severe allergic rhinitis, I no longer have hay fever. I am no longer a spring sneezer. By accident, I may have found my cure. If so, it’s been a long time coming.

I first developed hay fever around age 13. It quickly progressed from a sneeze here and there to extreme attacks, where I couldn’t stop sneezing all day and all night. I would even sneeze in the swimming pool — while under water!

In the interim, my great blessing has been the development of much better antihistamines, including pills which are non-sedating. Yet even the best of these becomes less effective for me as the allergy season wears on. By the end of a bad allergy year, an Allegra, a Zyrtec or a Claritin would do little good. I would be suffering an hour after popping a pill.

And then last year, my hay fever disappeared. I rarely had to sneeze. My eyes were not red and itchy. My throat was not hoarse. My sinuses were not congested. Yet Davis trees were still producing pollen.

This year, again, the same thing. High pollen counts, dry windy days and no serious symptoms.

One theory which has been suggested as to why my symptoms disappeared last year at age 48 was that I aged out of allergies. This apparently happens to many people.

Dr. Suzanne Teuber, a leading food allergy specialist at the UC Davis Medical Center explained to me, “Allergies do decrease with age in most people, and we do see occasional years in which a particular pollen just doesn’t tick very high on the charts for unknown reasons or related to perfect timing of a few showers.”

Perhaps that is what happened. Or perhaps, the change is a result of my diet. Beginning last March, I stopped eating all foods with gluten (save an occasional beer). I also no longer consume dairy products or food with added sugar.

Dr. Mark Hyman, a famous alternative medicine guru and author of diet books, says around 30 percent of Americans have gluten sensitivity. A small percentage of that larger group has celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

“In people with non-celiac gluten intolerance, the immune system attacks the gluten,” Dr. Hyman says. “When the lining of the gut is inflamed, the body is even more prone to food reactions.” Once inflamed, “the immune system attacks full throttle. White blood cells rush to surround the offending particle and systemic inflammation ensues.”

If I do have gluten sensitivity that causes my immune system to be on overdrive, it makes intuitive sense that, in the face of pollens, my body would produce histamine “full throttle” to attack those invaders.

Likewise, if I stop eating wheat and other gluten-rich grains, and my immune system is no longer inflamed, I should no longer have rhinitis when pollen is in the air.

I should add that, as far as I know, Dr. Hyman has never written anything about treating hay fever with a gluten-free diet. I more-less took what he says about gluten intolerance and guessed that may be why my allergies have ceased.

Anecdotally, there are others (on the Web) who have independently reached the same conclusion — that going gluten-free ended their rhinitis.

I posed the theory about food sensitivity causing seasonal allergies to Dr. Teuber.

She replied, “I don’t doubt that there are beneficial effects of various dietary factors — with an end result of inhibiting the release of histamine and other mediators from mast cells and basophils, which are the main effector cells in allergic rhinitis.”

But Dr. Teuber cautioned that the scientific evidence (as opposed to anecdote) is still thin.

“I have patients who have followed such (gluten-free and dairy-free) diets to no avail and still have allergic rhinitis,” she said. “Just saw someone today who follows such a diet for chronic gastrointestinal symptoms and saw me for their ongoing severe allergic rhinitis.”

A complicating factor in treating some food-related allergies is that what cures them may not be just one thing, such as removing gluten from the diet, but rather a combination of multiple factors which have a synergistic effect. Dr. Teuber pointed to a Mt. Sinai School of Medicine study looking at these synergies.

So perhaps, if I have not just aged out of my hay fever, the explanation is not simply going gluten-free, but that in combination with other changes in my diet and other environmental changes in Davis.

That said, this advice makes sense: If you are now suffering from seasonal rhinitis and you feel like you alone are keeping the Kleenex Corporation in business, remove all gluten from your diet for the rest of this allergy season.

If it works, great. If not, you will be no worse off.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at


Discussion | 14 comments

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  • John ChapmanMay 08, 2013 - 8:49 am

    I've experienced the same with my allergies. It started about 13 and mostly stopped last year when I went on a gluten free diet because of gluten ataxia. The dramatic improvement in pollen allergies was a happy surprise!

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  • AmyJune 03, 2013 - 6:48 am

    I found this article by doing a search to see if anyone else found relief from seasonal allergies when going GF. I had severe hay fever from the time I was a little girl. I was was basically incapacitated for the months of July, August and most of September util the first couple of frosts. As an adult my symptoms would cause pneumonia every year. I stopped eating gluten about 4 years ago in may and in that first summer I no longer had hay fever. It is unbelievable and I believe that allergists should suggest a GF diet to those suffering with seasonal allergies especially if they are causing other symptoms and health complications.

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  • FGVJune 08, 2013 - 3:30 pm

    Same thing happened to me. I've had severe allergies since childhood. Went gluten free last summer due to extremely painful gastitis with no known cause. No gastro pain since going gluten free and I no longer take allergy medicine after taking it every single day for years.

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  • ernesto carlottiJune 10, 2013 - 8:36 pm

    started an elimination diet two weeks ago to rid myself of pernicious sneezing, throat inflammation and sinusitis. I have had seasonal allergies for 20 years (probably longer, but I likely did not notice when I was an adolescent). I started the elimination diet because my sinusitis got worse after drinking beer, so I switch to wine. Nothing changed, so I stopped alcohol consumption. Sinusitis disappeared, but throat irritation set in and then constant runny nose. Two days ago, I noticed a worsening of symptoms after eating bread. So, I said let's eliminate that. Two days later, severe symptoms are gone. There is still pollen falling, so I still have sniffles, no sinusitis. I will reintroduce gluten in 5 days before pollen stops to see what happens. While far from scientific, good notekeeping and observations can help identify what to be wary of and what possibly to avoid. It also helps when speaking with a health advisor or professional.

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  • mr glutenJune 17, 2013 - 5:26 am

    Same experience here. Had hay fever develop from around the early teens...just came on. After 30yrs of suffering (april -july), i am hayfever free! This is due, i believe to being Gluten free. If i was to ever eat pasta say, symptoms would come instantly - itchy eyes running nose and a sever sneeze attack. Bread is a hard one, but its well worth making your own for the benefits it will bring. You have to be totally gluten free however - just go for it! As someone has mentioned here, more info needs to be promoted to those who have hayfever and a possible gluten intolerance connection.

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  • martin lavinJune 18, 2013 - 12:36 pm

    I am the skeptics skeptic. It took forever for a doc friend (from Davis) to convince me to quite gluten. I had all the symptoms (but not the sense). Eventually I conceded. My symptoms went away, I am so happy. Also, I have had off the charts pollen allergies for many years. tested many times. Took the allergy shots weekly for 15 years. Stopped the gluten and the pollen allergies decreased 95% in about 60 days. That was a year or more ago. Could be coincidence. Seems unlikely, have run not many others with the same outcome.

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  • Rich RifkinAugust 20, 2013 - 2:34 pm

    Certainly the most novel--and perhaps best?--cure for serious allergies and asthma I have ever heard of is to intentionally infect your body with tapeworms. Radiolab (on NPR) had a show about a man who discovered this, cured himself and later founded a business helping others become infected by tapeworms. (I heard a later update that the FDA forced him to shut down his US business, so he moved abroad.) Here is a URL for that program from 2009:

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  • BellaSeptember 22, 2013 - 8:42 pm

    Last year I did an elimination diet to see if it would help me from having Fall seasonal allergies. Starting upon my first sneeze (~Sep 1st) I ate no dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts and eggs. It was amazing, I could be outside for as long as I wanted without allergies, and NO medication what so ever was needed! I was shocked. I accidentally ate things here and there but ONLY the gluten made me sneeze. And it did so almost instantly, for the next day I was an allergic mess. It happened 3 times, and then i was convinced. Gluten was the culprit. Round 2 of seasonal allergies is in full force but not for me since I'm GF, thank goodness. I'm so happy I can enjoy the outside again in the Fall!

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  • cheekymomOctober 14, 2013 - 5:26 am

    I have been telling everyone for the last month about my "test" to see if the reason I have not had to take ONE SINGLE ALLERGY MEDICINE this season, is because of my (mostly) gluten free diet. and many people look at me like I am crazy. especially my son's allergist. but for 13 years I have had to take more than the regular dose of medicine in order to feel normal during ragweed season. this year, I went gluten free (for other reasons) but found that I did not have to take one single dose of medicine. It is crazy that it happened that fast. and what a contrast from last year. I am a convert now. a true believer. I will never go back to a diet that had that much gluten in it. And neither will my son, if I have anything to do about it. This all started because I wanted to see if taking gluten out of his diet had an impact on his behavior. and it did- it did in a huge way. I am glad that others found the same thing about the reaction to allergies.

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  • January 24, 2014 - 9:42 am

    I've been gluten-free for nearly 3 weeks and have been feeling so much better! My brain fog has lifted, my skin looks better, I feel more joy AND I just realized a few days ago that the off-and-on, chronic post-nasal drip stopped. I've had bad indoor and outdoor allergies probably for more than 2 decades. I'm 41. It dawned on me that it's probably due to eliminating gluten. I tested negative for Celiac, but am sure I have a gluten sensitivity. It's affirming to read your article and the comments, thank you!

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  • ChrisFebruary 17, 2014 - 1:57 pm

    I think you are on to something. Two years ago I tried fasting for just 1 day and my hay fever subsided. Last year I repeated this experiment but with a 4 day fast. No hay fever while on the fast. Then I noticed that if I ate "real clean", meaning mostly fruits and vegetables, I had little hay fever. It started to dawn on me that my hay fever is linked to what I eat! But thanks to your post and the comments of others, I'll try zooming in on gluten this year!

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  • Rachel EdwardsMarch 24, 2014 - 7:38 pm

    I think that everyone should remove gluten from their diet for a week of two, especially if you are having some type of health issue. I don't know how exactly I began to suspect that gluten may have a bearing on how very miserably my life has become due to allergies, but I cut it out for a day or two almost completely, and when I did eat it again my allergies came rushing back. I thought reasonably that it could just be a coincidence, they fluctuate anyway. But as I continued gluten free I felt hardly any allergies, I wanted to stay far from gluten. So I went to my favorite Chinese restaurant and opted for rice instead of lo mein, assuming that I would be safe. NOT. The next day I was dying again with allergies, eyes, nose, throat, sneezing so profusely that I meerly peed myself. So I figured that my self diagnosis was a flop and that I was just imagining how great I felt without gluten, when it was really just a coincidence. :-( But I knew that avoiding gluten had many other positive results and, deep down inside felt like there really was a connection, even thought my trip to eat Chinese proved me wrong. Right? I mean there should be no wheat in vegetables and chicken with rice, right? Until two days later I was reading the ingredients on a bottle of oriental dressing that I had tried and liked, I thought I would try to remake it myself by checking out the list of ingredients. Bingo!! The dressing had soy sauce, no biggie right?!?!....NOT!!!! That stuff has wheat in it! I had no clue, but thankfully it was listed on the label. I was relieved that I really was into something to ease my terrible allergies from hell. But I still feel like I am ingesting secret gluten laden ingredients. I have been researching uncommon places to find gluten and trying to see where I am still eating the stuff. Oh, not only seasonal allergies but strange allergies to almost any fresh fruit and some veggies. I see a direct relation to gluten and misery. And it takes about 24 hours to be completely sure that I have eaten something with gluten. Of all the reading I have done I have not seen anything about gluten and allergies, asthma yes, but not allergies, and I don't have the other symptoms that are listed as gluten sensitivity issues. Please if anyone has any more info that may help please let me know. I have thought about cutting out dairy and sugar, but haven't made it that far yet.

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  • Bea van der ZwaagApril 01, 2014 - 5:50 am

    I have had the exact same result. I suffered from severe seasonal allergies since I was very young and over the years developed asthma and then food allergies. My symptoms got out of control after the swine flu vaccine a few years ago. My asthma got very worse, I was reacting to foods I had not reacted to before. I did various allergy tests, where the results did not reflect the severity of my symptoms. Eventually, I took a food intolerance test and Gliadin was one of the foods that was elevated. I had no idea what is was, but after research realised that I had to try a gluten free diet (I also went egg, soya and dairy free). Within 2 weeks, I had no need for inhalers, steroid nose sprays, anti-histamine. I have enjoyed super health 3 years running. No seasonal allergies at all. I had been able to re-introduce dairy in small amounts. However, any amount of gluten will bring back the old symptoms. I would recommend it to anyone to give it a try.

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  • MagnusApril 15, 2014 - 2:21 am

    Same here, I'm 48 had severe allergies since I was kid. Been half dead because of the hay fever every spring since I was 7, injections, cortisone, antihistamine and so on. Got the tip from a friend a couple of weeks ago, so I stopped eating gluten a and all symptoms went away within a day. The question is, why isn't the first thing you try when you have allergic symptoms ? I think I know the answer, it has something to do with economy.

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