Why I (Usually) Abstain from the Grain: Wheat Makes Me Sneeze


I’m coming out of a two-day hangover. Over the weekend, I played a little too hard. Friday night, we ordered Indian food and I had a piece of naan. Saturday, I stopped by Half Acre to pick up a growler for a dinner party, and took three small tastes of three types of beer. Saturday night, Neil made pizza and I indulged. I also had a couple of slices of some kind of crusty white bread.

If left to my own devices, I would be a carbivore.

But I can’t be left to my own devices anymore, and here’s why: Around midnight Saturday, the sneezing started. It continued all day Sunday–complete with watery eyes and stuffed sinuses. Monday, it dredged on. All day, my eyes were sensitive to light. I sneezed so much my ribs were sore and it made my throat hurt. All because of wheat.

I actually don’t mind the reaction that much, anymore. Admittedly, the indulgence was worth it. It’s only been about a year since I pinpointed that bread, pizza, pasta and beer turn me into an allergic mess. Prior to that, I was sneezing all the time. I truly lost at least two days a month to non-stop sneezing. If you’ve only dealt with the occasional sneezing fit of three, five, maybe ten at a time, let me tell you, a sneeze day is worse than it sounds. You can’t do anything but sneeze and blow your nose. After about 15 years of that, I can’t count how many times I wished for a virus, rather than allergies, because at least you know an end is in sight.

I used to take allergy pills–Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, Benadryl and every generic out there–and, when one didn’t work, I’d take another. Two you can exist on. Three turns you into a zombie, and still doesn’t stop the sneezes. Then comes the hoarseness, the throat pain, the frustration and the exhaustion. You’re not sick-sick, so you don’t get much sympathy. But you’re also not healthy-healthy, and quickly learn that your sneezing is perceived as a germ liability and an irritant in social settings.

I’ve seen allergists over the years, been allergy tested. I’m allergic to a whole lot of things–grass, trees, pollen, cats, bunny rabbits, cockroaches, horses. If it lives, there’s a high possibility that it infringes on my sinuses. But when it came to food allergies, the tests all came back negative. Fifteen years ago, my allergist and I chalked it up to a raging case of hay fever. A hay fever that happened to go strong 12 months of the year. In any city. Any climate. All seasons. He prescribed Claritin and a steroid nasal spray. I now know why neither worked.

About a year ago, around the holidays, I gained the usual pumpkin pie/Christmas cookie weight and decided to give Weight Watchers a try. I learned the WW point system, quickly realizing the most obvious lesson: if you cut out bread and pasta–items with high points–you can make your points go further (i.e. eat more). So I cleaned out all temptations in the pantry and fridge, throwing away a few trash bags full of carbs: Wheat thins, generic wheat thins, water crackers, party crackers, wheat bread, English muffins, flour tortillas, Crispix, Chex, Raisin Bran, Chocolate Special K, angel hair pasta, spaghetti, whole wheat rotini, fettuccine, cavatelli, penne, etc. Did I mention how much I love bread and bread products?

I dropped a few pounds, which was nice. But what surprised me the most was the sneezing stopped. It took a while to realize it, and it didn’t fully hit until last February. That’s when I went to Polar Beer, a legendary (in my circle of friends) outdoor beer fest at Rock Bottom Brewery, and after a few drinks I became a sniveling mess. Huh, I thought. Huh.

Those huhs launched a year of self-testing, and consistent confirmation. When I eat or drink wheat, I sneeze. I’d like to say I went through the seven steps of grief on this, mourning the death of an old friend, but the reality is, I waver between step one–denial–and step seven–acceptance. On the days I’m in denial, I sneeze. Lately, I’ve been sneezing a lot.

I’ve watched friends and family look on with the same skepticism. I mean, I don’t have Celiac disease, I’m not gluten intolerant. Who sneezes from wheat? The fact that going gluten-free is actually trendy doesn’t exactly help dissolve that skepticism, but what can you do? I’ve even had my allergies tested again, hoping for some kind of medical confirmation, but my skin showed no sensitivity to wheat (nor did the skeptical doctor).

There’s a lot of debate these days on just how evil wheat is. Looking back, I can see that I’m more energetic, less groggy and, obviously, less sneezey when I abstain from the grain. But I’m not going to lie. If I hadn’t realized that wheat has a very real and very annoying impact on my health, I’d probably be buttering up a nice piece of fresh-baked bread right now.



36 thoughts on “Why I (Usually) Abstain from the Grain: Wheat Makes Me Sneeze

  1. I can’t believe I found this post! I could have written it myself. Suffered from allergies and chronic sneezing jags accompanied by foggy head for years – as long as I can remember. After a post-holiday cleanse that cut out wheat and dairy I realized the sneezing stopped. It’s like a miracle. I was so skeptical of the whole gluten-free thing until now. I considered it just the latest diet fad. My allergist and my friends/family think I’m just jumping on the bandwagon. It’s so hard to find any information about this particular wheat issue. Lots of info on celiac and other digestive complications, but very little has apparently been written about the link between seasonal allergies and sneezing and wheat. Thanks for posting – so glad I’m not crazy!

    1. I too have had a sneezing fit each day for as long as I can remember , I’ve been gluten free for a week and haven’t sneezed once x I didn’t give up gluten to cure my sneezing but have just happened to notice that I haven’t sneezed in a week x hoping to discover more benefits the longer I stay gluten free x

  2. I cannot believe I’m reading this – I could have written it myself. So crazy! I have been sneezing non stop today, and no matter what I do I cannot fix it – my nose is raw! It all started after about 3 weeks of “accidental” abstaining from gluten – we normally do “pretty well” or “don’t eat a lot” or at least that’s what I thought – but the last few weeks because we’ve committed to not giving our 10m old any gluten and only soaked/soured for our 3 year old, I’ve avoided it too… but yesterday I had two pieces of homemade pizza with “normal” wheat crust. Pain, shooting pain like my kidneys were going to rupture. And sneezing! Then this morning, two pieces of whole wheat bread (the “good kind” but not homemade) and I am a sneezing mess! I am convinced. Wow. Thanks for writing.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jess! It’s crazy, isn’t it? I’ve asked a couple of doctors about it and they seem pretty unfamiliar with the phenomena. But it’s been so consistent for me, I’m a true believer.

      1. OMG! Just read this. I too have been allergy tested and got the shots for 5 years! That was 8 years ago and I’ve been fine until I noticed that I would start sneezing after eating wheat bread. My husband thought I was crazy until I read him your post. Thank You!! 🙏🏻

  3. That is it exactly – It’s a sharp contrast between a bread day and a non bread day. My presumption was that it was always an external thing causing this – but alas no – Even Ezekial bread which I thought might be benign – it is as you describe. It may be that things conspire – leaf mold and a peanut butter and banana sandwich work well together to set me off. But two days with no bread and the leaves are as they were a few days ago – and I am fine. Clear headed – no sneezing at all. And you’re right – when it starts you just want to go to bed – watch a black and white movie and wait for the bread to pass out of your system.

  4. Don’t even get me started on how NOBODY wants to believe me and laugths right in my face whenever I tell them I sneeze bcs of wheat! I found it out about 2 years ago, but I still find it hard to forget it totally and indulge from time to time…but it takes me soooo long to get it out of my system afterwards that I always feel really bad about myself. Fortunately there are tons of alternatives, too bad I think I am also lactose intolerant, bcs even when i don’t eat gluten, I still sneeze. I’m pretty sure dairy has to go too 😥
    I feel like such a picky eater eversince then, I basically have to say no to everything people offer me. My colleagues ordered pizza a few weeks ago as a treat for our hard work, I come into the office and see my worst nightmare, tons of pizzaboxes and people eating pizza all around me…I swear I wanted to kill myself 😦

  5. Great story. I was in your boat years ago! I saw every specialist imaginable and every allergy test came out negative. It all seemed hopeless until I went to a Homeopathic doctor who coordinated an allergy test through a company called Immuno blood labs (not an endorsement!), to test my blood with various foods. In addition to wheat (brewers and bakers) I found out that I was sensitive to dozens of other foods. When I eliminated these foods, the sneezing, runny nose and all other hay fever like symptoms stopped!

  6. Thank you for this post. Two weeks ago I decided to start this diet plan that cuts out gluten for the first three weeks. Then today I thought, huh, I’ve hardly sneezed since cutting out wheat. I wonder if my wheat allergy manifested in sneezing fits. I was sneezing like 25-40 times a day. Besides not sneezing my skin has been looking amazing! I’m so glad I’m not crazy!

  7. As long as I can remember I have sneezed when I ate a sandwich or piece of bread. But only once. I don’t have the severe symptoms. I eat farro and wheat berries without sneezing. Beer will stuff me up. But I’m heartened to see that I’m not the only one who reacts this way. I’m lucky my reaction is relatively mild.

  8. I never did the flour-sneezing thing until about 2-3 years ago, not sure exactly when it started. At first I thought it was a coincidence, now I know for sure: I eat bread, I sneeze. Funny thing is, with home baking if I use Gold Medal flour, I don’t sneeze. Other flours, even with homemade products, I sneeze. Also, sourdough breads do not cause me to sneeze. I had eliminated all breads but Cheesecake Factory’s sourdough bread and butter: couldn’t resist. No sneezing after the first piece, so I ate more, still no sneezing. Orowheat sourdough bread = no sneezing. Orowheat regular bread = sneezing.

  9. Thank you so much for this! I have been scouring the internet looking for answers correlating my seasonal allergies, wheat, and trichotillamania. If you’re unfamiliar it’s a hair-pulling obsessive disorder-I pull my eyelashes. :/
    And in a desperate effort to stop pulling, and knowing that wheat intake causes extreme sneezing fits and my whole body to have a slight “itch”, like an overly reactive histamine reaction, I just have a gut feeling that wheat is a trigger for hair pulling too. I notice I am more irritable and likely to pull after snacking on chips, bread, etc. I know to avoid wheat beers. I’ve cut gluten before and it was phenomenal, but that was before the trich. Here’s to another dietary experiment! Anyway, thanks for being one of the rarities shining light here. I hope we all get some relief. 🙂

  10. Hey 😃
    Me too… But I also sneeze with vodka… And malt vinegar… I’m not sure if I’m sneezing because of the wheat or possibly malt or even some other grains… It’s not so severe.. But I can sneeze up to 15 times after ingesting anything containing grains…

  11. Ah! I had quit grain (easier said than done, really…) for a few months. Moved back to my parents for two weeks between work contracts. Bread, bread bread. Ive been sick for a week now. Red eyes, sneezing. General feeling of weakness, and need to rely on stimulants (coffee) which I had also quit. Thanks for reinforcing my own story. Ah!

  12. I also am to believe I have the same issues as you all. I eat a meal and most of the time it includes some sort of bread, (white, whole grain, wheat, etc…) after the meal and I mean just after the meal I begin to start sneezing and mucous builds up quickly. It is gross and my wife hates it. I have to leave the table and go to the bathroom to blow my nose and spit out mucous crap. I drink beer, I find that most of the craft beers or wheat beers really clog me up. Bud does a number as well. So I just snort up the nasal spray and go to bed. Wake up in the morning with stuffy nose and sneezing. So, based on your findings I believe I am in the same boat. I am going to test this theory as well and see if I stop all this sinus crap. Glad to have run into this blog.

  13. Thank you so much for writing about this. Like other commenters I felt alone too. With any kind of gluten (wheat, barley, etc.) I immediately get tingly gums, sore, scratchy throat, then the sneezing begins. Even a small amount (malt flavoring in crispy rice cereal). I was very strict with a lengthy elimination diet and found similar symptoms plus more upper and lower GI symptoms with dairy, egg whites, egg yolks, turkey, chicken, xanthan gum, and a couple other foods. This all started after suffering with vasculitis and now symptoms of RA, starting in my late 20s. My doctors have said things like “you’ll be able to eat those foods, just try them again” and “it’s not good to restrict yourself, everyone needs to cheat once in a while,” suggesting they know nothing of this, otherwise it would be painfully clear that these foods are not an option for me. I’m not restricting myself because I just can’t bring myself to eat pizza and scrambled eggs! I want all of those foods and it’s been difficult. Knowing there are others out there struggling too is sad, but makes me hopeful the word will spread and help people suffering with ailments relating to what appear to be food allergies/intolerances. Thank you!

  14. I’m reading this after sneezing my face off, having just told the dog off for nicking my cheese on toast while I’ve ran out of the room trying to stem the snot spreadage long enough to get to the toilet and catch it in some tissue lol. I’m going to cut wheat from my diet for a couple weeks now, see how it goes, thank god I read this.

  15. I too tested negative for gluten intolerance and yet, here I am again, nose streaming because I ate four slices of brown bread for supper. Coming across your post was lovely; thank you for sharing your discovery.

      1. Decided to Google “sneezing from wheat” after having to take an allergy pill because of sneezing no less than 30 times just now. I ate a delicious salty artisan pretzel with mustard 5 hours ago( nothing since then!) and now the sneezing has begun. I had convinced myself it was sugar, and Inthink it still may be that as well, but I am going to pay closer attention to the wheat possibility. Thank you for posting!

  16. Dear all, thank you for sharing your experiences. As a family we have been trying for 33yrs to identify the cause of my son’s severe sneezing episodes. Trying to explain to and be believed by GPs has brought no success, only oral steroids in increasing doses in place of nasal sprays or antihistamines that no longer work. In preparation for a holiday he has been trying to lose weight so he and his wife cut out carbs and beer… guess what. No sneezing ,no steroids. This week end he has had a few products that he had excluded and …yes sneezing, itchy nose and eyes have started with vengeance. If he has stumbled on the cause and from your posts he has we will all be so pleased for him.. It will literally be life changing. Thank you.

  17. I noticed this years so but thought it was just when I over ate. Then I started noticing I could eat a lot of protein, but if I ate a single dinner till I was sneezing 20 times in a row.
    Mine isn’t just what though. Mine is starches period it seems. Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. It all sets me off. Especially potatoes.
    I still eat them because I live in a house where you rarely find food that isn’t in sandwich form, and when meals are cooked they’re pasta or potato based. It’s awful!
    Tonight I had a scoop of mashed potatoes and sneezed for half an hour.

  18. Today for breakfast (just about an hour ago from posting this), I ate two pieces of Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Oatmeal bread (toasted) with my black, no sugar coffee (my breakfast staple) – I know it’s bad to only have these for breakfast  but… I have not even finished the second slice of toast and started sneezing continuously (more than 10x)! So, I started to Bing “eating whole grain bread and sneezing all the time afterwards” and this blog came up. Thank goodness I’ve discovered and narrowed down the cause of my constant sneezing. I’ve always sneezed “randomly” (so I thought) and I’ve always attributed it to my environmental allergens – ragweed, pollen, trees, etc. but I have not been out of the house this morning and I wasn’t sneezing last night… It has got to be the wheat… I then checked the ingredients found out that there were whole wheat flour and wheat gluten on the bread I just ate. The sneezing has stopped now but I am still feeling hazy and not 100%…

    I guess I need to take some action but I would still like to observe myself further. Thank you for this blog, now I can start my own self studying about myself and the other food allergens my body cannot tolerate (other than dill weed garnish).

    1. I have the same symptoms. Sneezing & congested. Bloating & gassy. Eventually an itchy rash. Just spent a week in the Azores & couldn’t resist the European bread. No symptoms at all. Nothing. I believe it’s either the pesticides (roundup) that they use here or a hybridized type of wheat that produces greater yields. So sad we are being played with.. like pawns.

      1. I posted here a long time ago, and after seeing email alerts, wanted to update. The bad ingredient is ENRICHED wheat flour. Organic wheat products in the US do not cause this reaction. Bread and pasta in Italy is perfectly fine for me. Cheap packaged cookies in the US and UK are not okay. Check ingredients, if it has things like reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, etc., it is one of those causing the problem.

        There is another US only ingredient which gives me a bad allergies, it is High Fructose Corn Syrup. Found in Coca Cola, Heinz Ketchup, so many well known brand names in the US use this in place of sugar. This is tough because most restaurants use Heinz or Hunts ketchup, both are big offenders.

        Check ingredients. Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup and Enriched Wheat Flour. By eliminating these two, I have been able to enjoy breads and pastas without issue.

  19. Me….for so many years. It is debilitating and the worst is what a huge monster I become to my little kids when it’s happening. I can’t think, see, breathe or hope. So glad to finally find others like me after a quarter century. I do think it’s a histamine thing and my also be related to pesticides or adrenal insufficiency.

  20. Like all of you I too suffer and believe it is wheat or grain related. Interestingly it must be genetic as my father, one brother and my son also get the same symptoms. I was beginning to think I was mad!!

  21. As I sit here I can’t stop sneezing, and I’m sure I’m wetting my pants. I just ate some toast. This is a nightmare. It happens to me all the time. Why am I not stopping doing this?

  22. Goodness, finally found people sharing the same curse. I have been sneezing the whole day I am just tired of it, peed on my pants 3x already. Eyes itchy, head aching, nose inflamed from rubbing and blowing all damn day! Looking back I realized I ate pasta last night. The whole week I ate past twice and both days after I suffer.

  23. I’ve been suffering like all of you for years and years. I’ve been to an allergist twice, with no help. You describe exactly my symptoms. I know I’m not gluten intolerant so was always perturbed when some foods would set me off. A couple of days ago I stared baking bread. “Healthy” bread. I bought (Canadian) organic bread flour, whole stone ground. Admittedly, I’ve indulged, and now I’m paying up big time. I’ve never met anyone with my symptoms, so feeling so relieved that I’m not “nuts”. I can give up bread! Well, I think so anyway! Just happy to know its wheat! Thank you so much!

  24. It’s 2019 and I finally found this blog post, I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only one. My doctors don’t believe me either, had skin and blood tests done and all were negative. Yet here I am having been in denial and eaten 3 tiny donuts from Coffee Bean yesterday at lunch, I’ve been sneezing since I left work yesterday. Someone has got to do a study or something on this, because it’s ridiculous that I can no longer eat pizza, donuts or Hawaiian rolls without dying for two days after!

    Thank you for writing this, I feel seen.

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