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How To Overcome Oat Allergy

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When you develop a sensitivity or a full-on allergy, it can be challenging to manage. The first step is confirming that it is, in fact, the oats causing your symptoms. If so, your body is likely experiencing an issue with avenin, a protein found in oats.

The symptoms of an oat allergy can be subtle, at least at first, and it’s not always obvious what is causing the problem. After all, oats are a common ingredient in all sorts of foods, from breakfast cereals to baked goods. They are often found alongside other known allergens like eggs, dairy products, wheat, and gluten.

When you develop a sensitivity or a full-on allergy, it can be challenging to manage. The first step is confirming that it is, in fact, the oats causing your symptoms. If so, your body is likely experiencing an issue with avenin, a protein found in oats.

The next step in managing your oat allergy is  to read ingredients carefully and ask questions in every restaurant. This gives you the ability to avoid consuming oats, so you don’t risk the discomfort that comes along with eating them..

These are the answers to your most frequently asked questions about oat sensitivity and oat allergies.

What are Oat Allergy Symptoms? 

As with any food allergy, symptoms can vary, depending on the nature of your sensitivity. If you experience any of the following after consuming oats, you may want to explore the possibility of an oat allergy.

On the milder side: 

  •     Itchy, blotchy, or irritated skin – especially after using external products like oat baths
  •     A rash or other signs of skin irritation in and around your mouth
  •     Itchy or scratchy feelings in your throat
  •     Congestion or a runny nose
  •     Itchy, watery eyes

More serious: 

  •     Nausea
  •     Vomiting
  •     Stomach pain
  •     Diarrhea
  •     Fatigue

Severe symptoms: 

  •     Difficulties breathing
  •     Anaphylaxis (throat swelling, breathing challenges, low blood pressure, erratic heartbeat, and similar)

If you experience severe symptoms, get medical attention immediately. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.

Keep in mind that when you have sensitivity to oats versus an allergy, the symptoms may take a bit longer to appear. That adds to the challenge of diagnosing the problem, because it is more difficult to make the cause and effect connection.

What are the Foods to Avoid if You Think You Have an Oat Allergy?

Some of the foods that contain oats are fairly obvious. For example, anything that says oats right in the name – oatmeal cookies, oatmeal, oat mile, and oatcakes. The same goes for products applied externally, like oatmeal baths and lotions containing oatmeal.

However, simply avoiding these items isn’t enough. It’s critical to check labels for ingredients like oats, oat powder, and avenin. These may be found in cold breakfast cereals, granola and granola bars, porridge and other hot cereals, muesli, trail mix, beer.

If you spend time around animals, including both domestic pets and farm animals, keep in mind that their foods often contain oats as well. For example, horse feed typically includes oats, and horses are often given oat hay. Even if you don’t touch these items, they may give off dust that you breathe in.

Can You Be Allergic to Oats But Not Wheat?

While wheat allergies and oat allergies can have similar symptoms, they are caused by sensitivity to different proteins. Wheat has four different classes of proteins, including albumin, globulin, gliadin, and gluten. That means it is possible to be allergic to oats but not to wheat.

There is another potential issue that adds to the complexity of diagnosing and treating oat and wheat allergies. Some of the allergic symptoms are the same as symptoms of celiac disease, which is an autoimmune response to the gluten that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, and barley. When those who have celiac disease consume gluten, damage occurs in the small intestine.

While oats don’t naturally contain gluten, they are often processed in facilities where wheat, rye, and barley products are made. Cross-contamination is common, so it is possible that those with gluten sensitivity will notice symptoms after eating products that contain oats.

What Allergens are in Oats?

As mentioned, the problematic protein in oats is avenin. For whatever reason, in people who have a sensitivity or allergy, the body mounts an immune response to this protein. This creates antibodies that attack the avenin, attaching to it in an attempt to destroy it.

Another word for antibodies is immunoglobulins, and there are five types that may be produced depending on the issue. If your immune system produces the immunoglobulin IgG, your body will respond to the allergen slowly. You may experience prolonged or chronic symptoms like fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and general inflammation. That’s a food sensitivity or intolerance.

If your immune system produces the immunoglobulin IgE in response to avenin, there are more severe allergic symptoms. That happens because IgE binds to the allergen as well as to mast cells. This causes mast cells to release histamine, which is what prompts all sorts of allergic symptoms. You could experience anything from a rash to anaphylaxis, depending on the severity of the allergy.

Treatments for Oat Allergy

If your symptoms are on the milder side, antihistamines may solve the problem. These will typically treat rashes, itchy skin, eyes, and throat, and similar. If your reaction is limited to itchy, irritated skin or a skin rash, you may be successful with a topical corticosteroid product.

If you experience a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction to oats, such as anaphylaxis, your physician may prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector, also known as an epi-pen. This is an immediate and life-saving treatment that ensures you have enough time to seek medical attention.

As with any sensitivity or allergy, staying away from oats is the best way to avoid a reaction. In addition to foods and products containing oats, check labels for warnings like “manufactured in a facility that uses oat ingredients.” This indicates that while oats aren’t an actual ingredient, it is possible that cross-contamination may have occurred.

When to See a Doctor for an Oat Allergy

If your goal is simply to determine whether you have an allergy to oats, an allergist is the best option. These professionals can perform allergy testing to validate that oats are the cause of your symptoms. Common testing methods include the following:

  •     Skin Prick Tests – Your allergist pricks or injects the skin with a tiny amount of diluted oats. If your skin shows a reaction, this confirms the allergy.
  •     Blood Tests – If skin prick tests aren’t practical for whatever reason, a blood test may be able to identify an oat allergy. Blood tests aren’t quite as accurate, making them a second choice.
  •     Patch Tests – If your symptoms appear over time rather than immediately after ingestion of oats, your allergist may use a patch test. A small amount of diluted oats is applied to a patch, which you wear for approximately 48 hours. If you are allergic to oats, you are likely to see a reaction on your skin when the patch is removed.
  •     Elimination Diet – Perhaps the simplest way to check for oat sensitivity or allergy is to avoid oats for a week or more. If your symptoms improve, it can be a strong indicator that the oats were causing the problem.
  •     Oral Food Test – Alternatively, your allergist or physician may have you consume a small amount of oats while under medical supervision. The amount of oats you eat is increased gradually, while your allergist or physician monitors you for a reaction.

Of course, these sorts of tests are secondary when you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction. If your symptoms are serious or life-threatening, get immediate medical attention.

Food sensitivities and allergies are frustrating, but they can be managed so the symptoms don’t disrupt your life. Speak with your allergist or physician about identifying the cause of your symptoms, and make it a point to avoid foods and products containing oats.

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