Many people suffer from gluten allergies, which are less like allergies and more like intolerance, and a significant proportion of these sufferers develop their sensitivity to gluten in adulthood. The type and severity of symptoms caused by a gluten allergy will vary from person to person and may include hives, swelling, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, or wheezing. In extreme cases, consuming gluten may even be life-threatening.
Gluten is one of four primary proteins present in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and low-level oats. Individuals with only minor reactions to gluten may be able to simply reduce the amount of gluten they consume. However, those who suffer from extreme reactions to gluten will have to completely eliminate all gluten products from their diets. Because wheat products, and therefore gluten, are used in numerous products, people with severe gluten allergies may find their diets quite restricted.
Treating food allergies and sensitivities through desensitization is a novel, but still experimental, approach to protecting sufferers from potentially life-threatening reactions caused by the accidental ingestion of foods they are sensitive to. Some believe the process of desensitization may even offer a cure to food allergies altogether. The process of desensitization is a reversal of the traditional "avoid it at all cost" approach to allergy control.
Under clinical supervision of trained medical practitioners, a person with an allergy is given a single minute amount of the substance they are allergic to. While they may experience some allergic reaction to this initial ingestion (though, often it is just mild), the amount and frequency is slowly and incrementally increased over time. Through desensitization, people with allergies, such as intolerance to gluten, slowly develop a tolerance toward the substance. Undertaking this type of desensitization must be done with the guidance and supervision of trained health care professionals, since the extent of an allergic reaction is unpredictable.