Benadryl is an antihistamine used to treat the congestion of allergies and the common cold. It's available over-the-counter and is generally a very safe medication, although it can make you extremely drowsy.
A while ago, I asked my readers on Facebook to share their strategies for coping with a glutening. A number of people mentioned that they take Benadryl.
"That is the only thing that has worked for me in the past," reports Denise. "It helps my breathing because of swelling in my chest, as well as asthma and any itching that might occur."
(See their other recommendations on coping with a glutening here: Readers' Best Ideas on Recovering from a Glutening)
But Can Benadryl Really Help?
Celiac disease isn't really an allergy, even though many of us call it that. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity doesn't appear to be a true allergic reaction, either. So Benadryl, which is intended to treat the runny noses, itching and sneezing that occur in true allergic reactions and when you have a cold, doesn't really seem like the right drug for the job when you get glutened.
To confirm my suspicions, I ran this past Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Fasano told me he doesn't recommend Benadryl for his patients' glutening symptoms. And while some people say it helps, there's no data to support Benadryl's effectiveness in treating symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, so be sure to discuss with your doctor whether this is a good option for you.
So Why Do People Swear By Benadryl?
There are a couple of possibilities.
First, not everyone with a so-called "gluten allergy" necessarily has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Some people suffer from wheat allergy, which is a true allergy that potentially would respond to Benadryl. In addition, some people actually have celiac or gluten sensitivity plus a true wheat allergy.
(For more on all this, see: Five Different Types of Gluten Allergy)
It goes without saying that if you're not sure what you actually have, you should talk to your doctor about it before self-medicating, even with an over-the-counter drug.
But what if you don't have a true allergy, but Benadryl still helps you when you get glutened?
One possible explanation is that it helps you sleep. Lots of people have the miserable combination of profound fatigue plus insomnia or difficulty getting to sleep when they've been glutened, and Benadryl — with its drowsy-inducing side effects — can help you get the rest you need to feel better and begin to recover.
Another possibility is that Benadryl's antihistamine ingredients can help you treat some (but not all) of gluten's effects on your body. For example, one reader reports that her primary symptoms when she's encountered a small amount of gluten cross-contamination involve an itchy rash on her shoulders and upper back. Benadryl or other antihistamines can help to soothe that itch when the glutening incident is a relatively minor one, she says.
There's still plenty we don't know about celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If you use Benadryl to help yourself deal with glutening symptoms, make sure to follow the package instructions, and definitely mention it to your doctor the next time you see her.
More on recovering from a glutening: