Can Gluten in the Air Harm You?

women-baking

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease almost 11 years ago, not only did I avoid eating gluten, I avoided the smell of it.  When I walked past the baker in the grocery store, I got a headache.  I also got a headache from the smell of the bread that my family used.

I don’t have a scientific explanation for that reaction, but I believe it was an allergic reaction.  After I was gluten free for a number of months, those headaches stopped.  I still tend to hold my breath a bit when I have to walk down the bread isle in the store.  Do you do that?

Despite my reaction, the smell of wheat does not mean there is actually gluten in the air.  Gluten does get in the air, though, when people bake.  White flour is light enough that is does “go flying” and the small particles hang in the air.

Can flour (and therefore gluten) in the air cause a gluten reaction?  I think yes.  Here’s why.

For those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, gluten causes a reaction in the digestive tract.  That means that breathing gluten into your lungs shouldn’t cause a reaction.  The problem is that when you breath it in through your mouth and nose, those particles of flour can become trapped in your saliva and mucus and then be swallowed.  At that point it enters your digestive system.

That is one reason that I removed all wheat flour from my kitchen and have not baked with it since I went gluten free.  In their bulletin, Producing Gluten-Free Products in a Non-Dedicated Kitchen, the Gluten Intolerance Group says that flour can hang in the air up to 24 hours. That’s a long time.

Not long ago my gluten-free son went to a friend’s house.  That friend’s mom does a lot of baking.  That particular day she had really done a lot of baking.  My son didn’t eat anything while he was there.  Later that evening and the next morning he had diarrhea, one of his typical reactions.  We went over everything he had eaten, and nothing seemed to be questionable.  It is likely he was reacting to gluten that got into his digestive tract from the flour that was in the air at his friend’s house.

Another reason that I don’t bake with wheat flour, and don’t recommend that anyone does if there is a gluten-free person in the house (whether it is the baker or not) is that flour in the air eventually settles on surfaces.  I’m not saying that it’s impossible to do, but I think it would be very difficult to make sure that flour is always cleaned up from appliances, work surfaces, eating surfaces, etc.

Other Ways Gluten Might Be in the Air

There is no doubt about it when you use aerosol sprays that the substance gets in the air as well as where it was intended to go.  I really don’t like aerosols, but for some reason I got hooked on a particular aerosol hair spray that I have used for months.  Just the other day I thought to read the ingredients and found that it contains wheat flour lipids.  Trust me, I am kicking myself for not checking that sooner.

Consider checking the ingredients on any aerosols or other types of sprays you have.

question markWhat do you think?  Have you removed all gluten-containing flour (not necessarily products) from your house?




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Comments

  1. So then I must ask…how gluten-free can pizza be from a pizzeria where flour dust is in the air all day long?

    • I would not risk it. :)

    • I try to not even go in the bread isle. My local grocery store recently rearranged their store and all of a sudden I was in the bread isle, Yikes, I tried to hold my breath and navagate the people. I don’t know if I have celiac because I stopped eating gluten 3 years ago due to stomach pain and more, you all know. Anyway they can’t test apparently if you aren’t eating it. I am also extremely sensitive to any amount of MSG, just because it says no msg does not mean there is none, just not the percentage that makes them disclose it as msg. It is in many other names. I know that msg is something that celiacs are also supposed to try to avoid. Good luck to us. Seems between the two I can hardly eat anything anywhere but my own home without ending up sick. Anyone have any good tips besides just bringing my own food and snacks which I do. I always carry something in my purse for those times when there is nothing I can eat mostly for myself so I don’t feel left out but others feel better too if you are eating with them. It’s such a pain that food has become such an enemy to me.

  2. I had a severe reaction recently when my husband I were driving around a neighborhood that housed a large factory that produced pizza dough. At first it was a lightheaded feeling (not a huge deal), but then it progressed into asthma and stomach cramps, and an overall feeling of panic. My gluten intolerance used to produce a strange feeling in my guts that I used to mistake for panic, now I know it was just a reaction to gluten. I’ve been gluten free for 5 years – have a dedicated kitchen – and still cannot breathe it. I won’t even go into a pizza shop or near noodles boiling! I never have that panic feeling unless I’ve been exposed to gluten.

    • Wow! Just from driving around the neighborhood! Thanks for sharing your experience. Some one else might experience that panic feeling too.

    • Wow, thank you for sharing that. I did not know that gluten could do all of that. I just recently found out that I have a gluten allergy, and my Dr and I are discussing some of the reactions that I am noticing when I come in contact with it. those are some of the symptoms I’ve had, but i did not know that could cause it. So, than you again.

  3. It all can be very confounding. For instance, in speaking with a nutritionist, the subject of toothpaste came up. Although she could think of only one that may contain gluten, she said that in order to cause any intestinal damage, one would have to eat 6-7 tubes of the paste. Same with shampoos that may enter your mouth and thereby, the intestinal tract.
    I realize flour is highly concentrated, so that makes a big difference in how someone extremely sensitive would react. My point is, everyones body will react differently and has varying extremes to how they react to gluten. I can eat GF pizza from a place that makes regular pizza with no reaction (that I’m aware of). However, it stands to reason that it truly can’t be gluten free with flour particles floating around and settling all day. Question is, at what PPM are the particles that make it onto or in the gluten free pizza?
    If you’re sensitive, don’t do it.

    • I think many people react to far less than what “they” say it takes to make you sick. Besides, I would rather use gluten free products, even if something does only contain a tiny amount. I wish there was more research done on how much gluten it takes to cause intestinal damage. I think many people who rely on their symptoms (and don’t have them) may be doing their bodies harm. Thanks for your input!

  4. I’m fortunate to have access to the wholesaler who makes the pizza crust and can make it at home. :D

  5. Before I went wheat free, I couldn’t figure out why I’d feel ok, then go work in the kitchen, making pizza crust, bread, etc. And get so weak I couldn’t stand up.
    Once I went wheat free, I figured it out. My daughters do all the baking now, and I try to stay out of the kitchen while they are working. I’m gong to have to be more diligent about having them clean up after themselves, though.

    I have not removed all gluten and/or wheat products form my kitchen. There are 6 of us, and I’m the only one with difficulties. So I just try to be really careful.

    • Having gluten products in the kitchen is one thing, but having wheat flour around is something else. It is so very hard to avoid contamination from it, but I’ve already stated that in my blog post. Maybe you could get your daughters interested in gluten free baking. It would be a challenge for them, and they might need it one day.

  6. I do hold my breath in the bread aisle :)

    We are a gluten-free kitchen as well. We just remodeled, so we even have new counter-tops, along with having changed out our cutting boards when we first changed our diet.

    GF pizza from the pizza place doesn’t bother me- but it’s a small family place and they are very careful. Salads in restaurants DO often bother me, and I think there must be gluten contamination from croutons all around their salad station. A baked potato seems to be the safer option for me when dining out.

    I have VERY strong reactions to the smells of things I have allergies to, overall. Both of my daughters take an antibiotic that I am allergic to, and I can’t get it on my skin or breathe the smell of it or I will get light-headed and sometimes hives. The smell of kiwi makes me ill as well- I think it is my body’s way of saying, “Stay far away!” before I even attempt to eat it.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone in holding my breath. :)

      That’s very interesting about kiwi. We don’t eat it often because some of us find it bothers our mouths.

      Thanks for all your input on this topic.

      • ajnemajrje says:

        I am allergic to kiwi as well. If I eat anything with it as an ingredient my throat gets itchy and I get these white canker sores all over the inside of my mouth.

    • I don’t avoid the bread isle like I do the baking isle where the flour is found!!! It seems likely that flour would be airborne all over the store from people picking up flour sacks, flour escaping from sack folds when the sack is inadvertently squeezed. But I believe it would be more concentrated in the flour isle! It’s impossible to avoid this isle completely because my GF rice milk is kept on the same isle!! (The much tastier Rice Dream, found in the refrigerator section, isn’t GF!) But I am only on the isle for the length of time that I can hold my breath! How stupid is that to have to walk through life holding your breath!! …I do plan to ask my grocer if they could store the milk alternatives somewhere other than directly across from the flour, since so many celiacs can’t do dairy either!

      • You’re right. Many gf people are also dairy free. I would definitely ask them to move it! I’m rather surprised that it’s there anyway. In the stores I shop at, milk substitutes are usually with the health foods and not in a primary part of the store.

  7. I found this out the hard way when my son was starting baby cereal. The dust in the air from it made me quite ill so we switched him to rice and soy cereal instead.

  8. I am sure that a lot of flour dust in the air can cause reactions. There’s a good amount of dust whenever I bake gluten-free goods, and, maybe, it’s just my imagination, but sometimes it even feels like I can taste the flour in my mouth after there has been a flour cloud… I am glad that there is rarely any gluten baking going on in our household, but, for example, I try to avoid breathing in the air that comes out of the “normal” cereal bags when I squeeze them to seal them.

    • My kids are big enough to close the cereal bags themselves, but that’s definitely something to consider if you are the one closing the bag. Thanks for your input.

  9. Also – If you are Celiac or GF, beware of SWheat Scoop Cat litter – dust can get in air and on cats fur and somehow be ingested. Use “Worlds Best Cat Litter” Brand which is corn. And kiss your cats!

  10. Thank you for this post. People think I’m crazy because I won’t let gluten of any sort in the house and won’t bake with wheat flour for other people. But, I know those flour clouds find their way down our throats!
    And yeah, I hold my breath in the bakery aisle too! LOL

    • You’re welcome, and you are not crazy! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who holds my breath. :)

    • ajnemajrje says:

      People are weird when it comes to reactions when they find out that you cant eat something. For some reason they understand about nut allergies but if it comes to a wheat allergy people seem to think its impossible. One person actually even argued with me that it was impossible to have a diet that did not include wheat and that I must have a very unhealthy diet as she could not live without pasta. Then she had no idea what was in wheat that made it so important to her diet but insisted that I had to have it in my diet.

      People are weird that way.

  11. I feel sick at my stomach in the bead isle now at the store. Also for those that don’t think that they get sick from air borne flour, remember that the Villi can flaten out without giving us symptoms.
    Moe

  12. Chickiepea & others in thinking about being sick from salads, think about those that handle hamburger buns and then make up salads, they don’t wash hands between. Also this is why I NEVER order a drink with ice in it, since gluten could be in the air and land in the ice machine undetected. Sometimes I think it’s not 1 time being glutened that makes us ill, it can be an accumulation of gluten through out the day, tiny bits here and there that add up.
    Moe

    • You’re right. There are lots of opportunities for contamination when eating out. And I agree, small amounts of gluten can add up to cause bigger problems. Thanks for your input.

  13. Excellent post, Linda! And there are many good points shared in the comments, too. I’ve actually read that flour can stay airborne for much longer, and I tend to believe that considering how I can see firsthand how dust particles can fly around my house.

    When I first went gluten free (8 years ago), I continued doing some baking with gluten-full flour for a very short time. Even early in being gluten free–and therefore probably still having gluten in my system–I didn’t feel well after I baked with gluten. So I gave that flour away and started baking completely gf for all of us. I’m still surprised at families that continue using gluten-full flours for some baking in their homes even if they don’t consume it themselves. Even if one does not have outward symptoms, it’s simply not safe. Usually when you talk to these folks, many have health issues that they don’t tie to still getting gluten.

    I hold my breath when I’m near bakeries (walking by the sourdough factory in San Francisco with the steam pouring out required an extra long breath … I was wishing for a mask at the time!) or even when we’re on the motorcycle and riding past wheat fields and either the wind is blowing or the wheat is being cultivated. I won’t eat at places like Panera Bread or Subway where there is bread being made.

    I’m glad you figured out that your hairspray contained wheat. I think they usually do. I always feel like anything like that lands on my tongue and my hands, and if I later touch my hands to my mouth wiping off smudged lipstick or something … well, the chances of ingesting it are pretty high I think.

    Finally, we get a lot of advice from others about having to consume “tons” of this or “tons” of that for the products to harm us, but if we truly listen to our bodies, we’ll figure out what’s safe for us. If we’re eating a lot of processed foods, with a “gluten-free” label or not, it’s hard to know where the source of our woes are. Heck, it’s even hard to recognize we’re having problems, because we may be constantly getting small amounts of gluten. But it we are largely eating whole foods (and making meals from them), then when we add in products and have an issue, we are more likely to recognize it.

    Thanks, Linda! Stay safe, all. Off to share,
    Shirley

  14. We have a no-gluten-flour rule at our house. I’m the only one with gluten problems, but I’m also the main cook. So if my husband and daughter want to eat wheat bread and crackers, that’s fine. They might even indulge in a frozen pizza or something like that. But a gastroenterologist put the fear of flour into me early on, and I avoid it like the plague.

  15. Call me crazy but gluten in the air is exactly why I avoided visiting my family in KS during wheat harvest. The city my dad lives in is literally surrounded by thousands of acres of wheat!

  16. Thanks so much for this information. I recently went with my mother and sister to Cracker Barrel. Once seated, I asked the waitress if biscuit flour was flying in the kitchen and she said yes. I drank a glass of tea and thankfully had no reaction. Of course my sister wasn’t happy that I wouldn’t try the greens or some other gluten free item. My motto is, when in doubt go without.

  17. Glad I’m not the only one who gets affected by airborne gluten. It makes me nauseated.

  18. Jessica Brendle says:

    Many people think they can get away with ingesting small amounts of gluten as long as they don’t feel symptoms like intestinal, rash on hands or whatever, but the villi are still being damaged. Over time, this nutritional loss will likely affect their health. My husband is celiac and also allergic to wheat, rye, barley, and oats via blood test. I have a celiac grandmother, food allergic relatives, and am likely sensitive myself. Because of this, I have not baked with wheat flour in 6 years. I couldn’t imagine putting a cloud of that in the kitchen anymore than putting up a hive by the window of someone who was allergic to bees. Maybe drastic? Well, I might have thought so until recently when my hubby’s company moved him to the security office at a brewing company. The smell was very strong. During the tour around the facility, he began to feel dizzy, nauseated, panicky. I assume it was the barley? Anyway, he had to leave the site immediately and his company had to station him to work at a different site. So, yes, small amounts of gluten your body is intolerant to can harm you over time and small amounts you might be allergic to can definitely cause problems, even affect where you can work! Best wishes to all!

  19. Today I made gluten free pumpkin bread. I sprayed the pans with Pam and then on a hunch checked Pam’s ingredients. Sure enough…wheat lecithin. No more Pam for me. The other night I baked for my kids and breathed in some wheat flour by mistake and my face got all rashy. Coincidence? Maybe, but I will watch out for that in the future!

    • I have a can of Pam original and it does not contain wheat. It has soy lecithin. I think the Pam Baking contains wheat.

      • Yes, It is Pam baking spray. Too bad DH got a 3 pack from Sam’s Club! I think I’ll just oil by hand from now on like my mom used to!

    • I forgot to add that step! Thanks for telling me. Yes, you sprinkle them on top before baking.

  20. Analia says:

    Thanks for all the info and for making feel a little better. I have to leave the dinner table at restaurants when my family orders food with gluten because it makes me dizzy and I feel a heaviness behind my eyes. I’ve been gf for 3 month and dairy free for 3 years and I still don’t get used to them eating gluten around me. Any tips?

    • Analia, if you’re reacting to being around gluten rather than ingesting it, then you are probably having an allergic reaction. That should improve as you are gluten free for longer. It did for me. Now I don’t like being around the smell of bread and such, but it doesn’t give me a headache. It might be best to simply avoid those situations as much as possible for a few months. I know it’s difficult, but if you say that you can’t go to dinner with them, maybe they will reconsider ordering gluten filled food.

  21. Shelagh says:

    Yesterday at my local mall I was shopping in a store located directly next to a pretzel shack for about a half hour. The whole place smelled strongly of pretzels (which is bad enough without being gluten intolerant)..and I had all my normal symptoms of a gluten reaction. So thanks for this article, I will definitely stay away from that place in the future!!

  22. Thank you so much for this information. I was very recently diagnosed with the blistery gluten rash and have not been eating gluten for about two months. I am a professional cook though, and do all my own scratch baking. Oftentimes 12 loaves of bread at a time. My skin has been horrible and I never connected inhaled gluten to it until a couple of weeks ago. I feel like ridiculous for not thinking of it, I just wear gloves and get on with working. I am exploring other options now…

  23. How long does a reaction last? My symptoms seem to be fatigue and depression and crying a lot. I baked bread on sunday for my husband who is the only one who eats whole wheat bread in our family of 6. The next day, my kids are having meltdowns, and I am tired and crying. Can’t seem to get much done. The day after that, the meltdowns continue with the kids and I stil get a minimal amount done. Is it seriously the gluten? Such a learning curve with figuring out allergies when I do not trust doctors for a real answer.

    Do you stay away from oatmeal as well? Could be part of our problem too. I hope you still respond to this post!

    • Hi Drea. Unfortunately, gluten reactions can last days. I have felt the mental/emotional effects for up to a week at times. And I have read that gluten stays in your system for 6 weeks! I’m sorry you’re going through that. I would suggest that you not do any baking with wheat flour in your house because that probably was the cause of your problems. I do eat certified gluten-free oats, but not on a regular basis. If what you are eating is not certified, then yes, that could be causing problems. Also, some people cannot tolerate even the gluten free oats. Take a look at my Gluten Free Diet Information page. You can access it from the orange bar under my header. I hope that helps.

  24. Hello! I am so excited I found this article I think people do not understand the severity of a gluten intolerance can be on a person. F or Some people it can be bad others not so bad. For me it can be very bad if my husband even makes or eats a sandwich by me I start coughing, I get itchy especially on my face. I think it even effects me emotionally and i feel so sick all the time I also get a choking sensation . Just recently I got married and I live here in a small country town in Oklahoma that is filled with WHEAT :( I think it is even effecting me now because it is growing. For a lot of people it can be not believable and I can understand that. But when you have a severe allergy to something you want to not even live by what causes your body harm. They have been cutting cotton here in town, but I also think its the wheat growing around the area??? not sure . I first came here during the end of there wheat harvesting!!! had not idea my husband felt so bad because he thought i was just allergic to eating it not being around it.I was so sick :( horrible time for me. Do not know if anyone is reading this article but I take comfort in knowing other people get so sick over the same thing as me wheat also makes my chest feel very weak and fatigue its hard to explain!! I also have other allergies that do not make it easier on me. please if any one has any advise please help!!!

    • Robin, I do not think your reactions are unusual, particularly if you have a wheat allergy rather than celiac disease. Many people with food allergies react to any type of contact with the food. You’re not crazy. If you are having reactions, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. You need to take care of your body. If it was me, I would move if it was at all possible.

      • Thank you so much for responding back to me!!! I appreciate it so much :) I do have a wheat allergy plus celiac disease. Another reason maybe why I am so sensitive to the wheat. My husband and I are planning to move, We need to stay until He gets a kidney transplant. Mean time during Harvest time we will be most likely going back to Illinois for a while. It is a difficult situation right now for both of us. There is a town 5 hours from here that we are going to next week to visit. Right now I have been having difficulty breathing and itchiness its hard because even to a lot of medications my body is sensitive to. Since the wheat is growing I am wondering if that can even be effecting me ? I think it is .

  25. Sharon says:

    Unsure if I’m sensitive or celiac, still going through the diagnosis process. I’ve been gluten free for 9 months but the test calls for 6 weeks of ingesting poison. My DH is 6’1″ & I’m 4’11″ which tends to pose a problem when he’s eaten a sandwich or other wheat items then wants a hug. He SAYS he understands but this type of behavior shows me that he doesn’t either a) understand, b) doesn’t care, c) is extremely selfish. Previously he worked out of town and his eating habits didn’t really affect me; now, he works nearby and is home nightly which is causing undo stress because he isn’t willing to compromise. How do I deal with this? He doesn’t believe that a crumb is enough to cause any issues; but, he sees the effects wheat has on me. I’m completely frustrated by the lack of respect.

    • Sharon, that’s a tough situation. Maybe it would help him to hear from other people that a crumb is enough. Try finding online articles (such as this one) or taking him to a gluten-free/celiac support group meeting in your area.

  26. Cayman says:

    I’m relatively new to the celiac world, I was diagnosed in April of 2012, I am also a culinary student. My passion is cooking. Despite my diagnosis I am determined to become a GF Chef. In my program we do a rotation through various kitchens, one being bakery. I began the bakery portion this week only to find myself ill as can be, with rash everywhere due to inhaling gluten. The Chef’s at my school don’t seem to understand the severity and extent of what being celiac truly means. I wore gloves and a dust mask for the past two days and although it is slightly better than day one it is still terrible and just impossible. When I approached them about some type of resolution we could come up with they pretty much said I am screwed. I am now going to speak with the dean. I will be devastated if they aren’t willing to accommodate me. I have excelled in every other aspect of the course… Hopefully things work out.

  27. Karen Saunders says:

    I have only been on gluten free 3 weeks. Starting to feel some better. Was just diagnosed celiac through antibodies in blood test and results from biopsies. I also have hypothyroidism. I was in the grocery store a few days ago and started feeling very strange. I looked behind me and someone had dropped a 5 lb. sack of wheat flour, spilling onto the floor. I left the area but did feel bad for a few days. I had no idea that flour just being in the air would affect me so. Thanks to everyone so much for all the information. I am so new to this and need a lot of help. I was overwhelmed at first but the web sites, FB pages, and downloaded several books to read on celiacs.

    • Oh my, that was an unfortunate accident in the grocery store. I avoid the bread aisle if I can because I don’t like smelling it. I never thought about possible flour in the baking aisle. I’m glad you were diagnosed and are starting to feel better, and I’m glad I can be of help. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  28. shannon says:

    is this possible…I was at work the other day and due to the holidays our boss ordered the staff about ten pizzas for lunch ( of course I did not eat because of being celiac and they were not GF) alas the smell was divine it radiated thru the entire break room. That day at work I had an asthma attack..out of the blue for no reason couldnt understand why..now I have been home with the flu for three days..and I was thinking back to just a month ago when they once again had had several of the same pizzas in the back room and I had come down with an extremely sore throat just the day after…do you think there is a connection between my celiac and the pizzas being brought into the work place?

    • Yes, there could be a connection, but in that case I think it’s more of an allergic reaction (rather than celiac). If the pizzas are brought in cooked, then the flour (and gluten) wouldn’t be in the air. Just like my headaches, your body is probably reacting to something it knows is bad for it.

      • I get very ill around bakeries in grocery stores, people eating wheat food, washing dishes that were used for gluten, and am only so-so in restaurants that have ” gluten free” food.

        My biggest problem though is working around people who eat at their desks or bring in bagels and donuts . I can control my home environment but have none over the workplace. What do you all do about your workplaces?

        The longer I am GF the worse the reaction too. Starting to get gluten ataxia if I am accidentally poisoned. This sucks.

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