I have tried to find a good way to describe the difference between celiac disease and a wheat allergy – but first I had to figure it out myself.
I knew that a wheat allergy is an allergy. Celiac is an auto-immune disease. The simplest way to explain it, is that when someone with a wheat allergy eats wheat, the body attacks the foreign substance – wheat – and reacts with inflammation. The bodies goal is to eject the thing in which it is allergic to. Celiac disease is quite different. What happens with celiac disease, is that when the body tries to digest gluten, it turns on itself and attacks the villa in the small intestine. So, rather than an allergic reaction where the body tries to eject the thing it is allergic to, the body turns on itself, causing serious internal harm.
I did find this great resource – http://gastro.ucla.edu/site.cfm?id=281 – scroll to the bottom for the chart.
One of the challenges with celiac is that you can be doing damage and not know about it. I don’t necessarily have clear symptoms when I eat wheat. It doesn’t feel like a wheat allergy. It doesn’t even feel like a gluten sensitivity (which is someone somewhat clouded in mystery – it is poorly understood, and some recent literature suggests that it might not actually be the gluten that people are sensitive to, rather a different substance in the wheat). In some cases, for me, it feels like nothing. In some cases, I get blisters. The problem is, even without symptoms, my body could be turning on itself, causing damage. I just don’t know.
I do know, that I was doing pretty well on a gluten free diet for the last three weeks. I had to eat a little gluten yesterday and today. It was actually really hard to figure out what to eat. I had conditioned myself so much that gluten is poison. I wanted to make sure that if I did eat gluten, that I made it count – I might as well eat something that I’m really missing, cause I won’t be eating gluten again anytime too soon. Today’s bit was just enough to hopefully have some new blisters, as I have a dermatologist appointment tomorrow, and if I have blisters, they can do the appropriate biopsy in order to officially diagnose dermatitis herpetiformis. This is just one more piece in the puzzle which I expect (I know) will lead to an official celiac diagnosis.