If your child shows sensitivity to foods with gluten, but has had a negative result on a test for celiac disease, it's possible that she may have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is otherwise known as gluten intolerance.

While celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, a gluten intolerance is not. This means that if your child eats gluten, while it may cause discomfort, it will not damage the small intestine.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance, shares many symptoms with celiac disease. However, people with a gluten intolerance have more symptoms that are not gastrointestinal in nature, and symptoms appear hours to days after consuming gluten. Here are some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance:

  • "Brain fog." This is the most common characteristic of gluten intolerance. Kids with brain fog may often feel tired, or like they just got out of bed. They may be especially forgetful, and may have trouble focusing or completing tasks.
  • Headaches or migraines. It’s not common for children to experience chronic headaches or migraines. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, he should be taken to a doctor for an evaluation. It could be the sign of a gluten intolerance.
  • Acne, flushed complexion or rashes. Itchy elbows, knees, buttocks and the back of the neck has been associated with gluten intolerance.
  • Joint pain or numbness: Chronic joint pain and tingling and numbness in the fingers, arms or legs are clear signs of a health issue. In those with a gluten intolerance, it happens frequently for no apparent reason.
  • Diarrhea, gas or constipation
  • Distended stomach or bloating

Since there is no test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the best way to see if your child is affected is to eliminate the offending foods from her diet and see if her symptoms improve. However, your child's pediatrician may want to first test for celiac and a wheat allergy to make sure neither of those is the culprit. When testing for celiac disease, it is very important that your child continues to eat foods that contain gluten for proper diagnosis. If both tests are negative, then eliminating gluten from your child’s diet is the best way to help your child with her symptoms. This should be done under the care of a doctor.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD