Gluten intolerance or celiac disease can affect people of any age, including children. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Many processed foods and packaged items include small amounts of gluten or have been contaminated by gluten during processing. Children with gluten intolerance must avoid all gluten, as well as potential sources of cross-contamination.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition. When a child with gluten intolerance consumes gluten, his immune system begins to attack the villi, or hair-like projections lining the small intestine. The villi absorb nutrients from food, making them a critical part of the digestive system. Each exposure to gluten increases the damage to the small intestine.
Symptoms and Concerns
The symptoms of celiac disease may vary from child to child. Parents are likely to notice significant digestive issues, including diarrhea and constipation. Children may lose weight, grow poorly or show signs of malnutrition, including anemia. Rashes, mouth sores, seizures and joint pain are also possible. In rare cases, celiac disease may contribute to intestinal cancers and osteoporosis. Celiac disease is typically diagnosed with a blood test, but your doctor may also order a biopsy of the small intestine.
Treatment and Management
The only treatment for celiac disease is dietary. All gluten must be eliminated from the diet. For many families, this means making the kitchen, or at least parts of the kitchen, gluten-free. Unfortunately, kids can be exposed to gluten through shared toasters, cookware or kitchen utensils. Opt for non-porous materials or separate kitchen items. Purchase squeeze containers of mustard, ketchup and other condiments to eliminate the risk of contamination and make sure that jars of peanut butter, jelly and other foods are clearly labeled for gluten-free kids.
While kids with gluten intolerance have to be on a restricted diet, many companies do make gluten-free versions of kid-friendly foods, including chicken nuggets, waffles and pretzels. You'll also find that some favorites, like ice cream and tortilla chips, are often gluten-free. Check labels and manufacturer web sites to find out which foods are safe for your child and be patient while she adjusts to her new diet and new foods.
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