It is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease — when the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine interfering with the absorption of nutrients— with approximately 83 percent of these persons going undiagnosed, and children are no exception. Celiac disease occurs more commonly in girls than boys, is genetic, and the average age of diagnosis in children is 9 years old.
Some symptoms of celiac disease include constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, behavior issues and headaches. Children can also have gluten sensitivity, when the tests indicate that he/she does not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy ,but symptoms diminish after starting a gluten-free diet, followed by a return of symptoms when gluten is reintroduced into your child’s diet. If you suspect your child may have a gluten allergy or sensitivity contact his/her pediatrician right away.
A doctor will perform diagnostic tests to determine whether or not your child has a gluten allergy, so it is extremely important you do not eliminate gluten from their diet, since being on a gluten-free diet can interfere with the accuracy of some of the testing. Blood tests are done to see if your child’s body is producing antibodies against gluten and to see if your child has the gene for celiac disease. If your child does not have the gene for celiac disease then your child cannot have celiac disease. Unfortunately, the antibody blood test is not 100 percent accurate and gluten needs to be in the diet before the test is done. The only true way to diagnosis celiac disease is to have biopsies of the small intestine done while the child is still eating gluten to see if gluten is damaging the small intestine. The procedure is done under anesthesia and may be stressful for both the parent and the child.
The only treatment of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, is to eat a gluten-free diet which can be challenging. Only 1/100th of a piece of bread with gluten may cause damage to the small intestine when a child has celiac disease. A gluten-free diet contains no wheat, barley, rye, or crossbreeds of these grains. Oats do not contain gluten but you have to be careful eating oats since they could be cross contaminated. Other cross contamination risks include: bulk bin foods, toasters, condiments, colanders, grills, and spatulas. There are possible food sources of hidden gluten in brown rice syrup, communion wafers, French fries, salad dressings, and soy sauce. Gluten is also contained in non- food items such as prescription or over counter medications, sunscreen, shampoo, soap, lip gloss, Play-D’oh, and stickers. For a gluten-free diet guide for families go to gikids.org.
If your child is diagnosed with celiac disease, it is important to tell your child’s school nurse, teacher, coach, and school cafeteria staff. Some schools may have your child only eat gluten free food that is provided from home and some school cafeterias provide some food that is gluten free. Teachers and school nurses need to understand student specific symptoms, ensure that your child has appropriate bathroom privileges and that gluten free foods are provided for classroom parties.