• Vale was brought up in a Maltese household, eating fresh bread. (Moment RF/Getty Images)
Having an exercise-induced wheat allergy means nutritionist Sandra Vale, 46, can’t go for a run then eat a sandwich, or even enjoy liquorice while walking around the shops.
By
Sandra Vale, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

3 Aug 2018 - 10:13 AM  UPDATED 7 Aug 2018 - 12:30 PM

My allergies are adult-onset: I developed an exercise-induced wheat allergy when I was 37-years-old.

One day, I was out and about having a picnic with my family. I had something to eat and started walking around the park with my young children when I had a really rapid onset of hives.

I started to feel very dizzy, so I went straight to the emergency department at the hospital. I was treated and later on, saw an allergist. The results of all my skin tests came back negative, [suggesting that I was allergy-free] at the time.

In the months that followed, I didn’t have any further severe reactions but I did have a number of mild reactions where I would develop hives all over my body. It’s really an uncomfortable experience. When that happens, I can take an antihistamine and within 20-30 minutes, my rash is gone.

It was a big shock because I’ve eaten wheat all of my life – and enjoyed it for most of my life.

Not knowing the cause, I kept a food diary to note what I was eating and the mild reactions I had.

Then one day, eight months later, I ate some liquorice. I was walking around town when I had a mild reaction. I’m a nutritionist by the way of my professional background so I knew what was in liquorice – wheat. I went back to the allergist for another blood test: this time the results showed I had an exercise-induced wheat allergy. It was a big shock because I’ve eaten wheat all of my life – and enjoyed it for most of my life.

What is an exercise-induced wheat allergy?

I can’t eat foods containing wheat for a good four hours before I’m active. If I eat wheat and then exercise, I get a severe reaction.

For me, a severe reaction is getting a rapid onset of hives, which cover my entire body – my face is the only place that does not get affected. I get dizzy because my blood pressure drops. It’s really scary and the reaction is life threatening.

I carry an EpiPen with me at all times.

...if I was running late to appointment so I started walking quickly from the car park that would be enough to cause a reaction.

The condition I have is dose-related. So if I am not exercising but eat a lot of wheat, I may still have a mild reaction. Maybe I could eat maybe half a slice of bread [and not do any activity] and I will be okay but I will not be able to eat a full slice of bread.

Even though the condition is called ‘exercise-induced’ it’s not really caused by exercise in the true sense of the word, as I can have a reaction doing any kind of activity [or movement]. For example, if I was running late to appointment so I started walking quickly from the car park that would be enough to cause a reaction.

It was hard but I had to change my diet

I don’t eat wheat during the day but sometimes, at night, if I stay home with my husband [so he can monitor me], then I’ll have a small serve of wheat products with my dinner. I don’t have a lot but I might have some pasta, about a quarter of what another person without allergies would normally eat.

In the summer, we might go for a swim in the evening. In that instance, I wouldn’t eat wheat at all at night.

Modifying my diet and lifestyle required making big changes. My family are Maltese, so pasta and beautiful fresh crusty bread have always been big parts of my life and diet.

Meet the 20-year-old creator of Houghnuts: gluten- and dairy-free pumpkin doughnuts
By age 17, Abbey Unger, had created her healthy doughnuts to manage her Hashimoto's thyroiditis diet.

The one thing I miss eating the most is freshly baked bread. Gluten-free bread is okay and it’s gotten better over the last 10 years but it’s still not the same as wheat-based bread.

It’s also a challenge to eat different foods to other people at social events.

Even getting an ice cream with my family isn’t simple – I can’t get it in a cone anymore, so I order it in a tub. All those little changes have made it more frustrating.

But I do think you get better at being used to having a condition like this as time goes by.

Modifying my diet and lifestyle required making big changes. My family are Maltese, so pasta and beautiful fresh crusty bread have always been big parts of my life and diet.

I’m always vigilant – with this sort of condition, you can’t ‘not think about it’ because you have to watch everything you eat and do. I know how I feel when I have a reaction, and when to use my EpiPen and get medical help. The other thing is that I let the people around me know about my allergy and where my EpiPen is, so if I do have a reaction, they know what to do.

To me, that’s I know that’s all I can do otherwise I would stop living – and I’m not prepared for life to be like that.

If you have a food allergy and want information or advice, call Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia's helpline on 1300 728 000. In an emergency, always call 000. 

Spelt & buckwheat with coconut & pineapple

The use of spelt and buckwheat give this oatmeal (porridge) a great texture. Oats and coconut are a fantastic combination and the caramelised pineapple makes for a very special breakfast.

13 festive desserts that are gluten-free and glorious
Creative desserts from around the world that don't use wheat flour, because gluten-free doesn’t mean glutton-free.
Not everyone loves wheat - so why not remove the bad bits?
Most people eat about a kilo of wheat a week but for others it can cause painful health concerns. So why not isolate the parts of wheat that cause problems, and remove them from future crops?