Jump to content
  • Sign Up
  • Join Our Community!

    Get help in our celiac / gluten-free forum.

  • Anne Marie Dunphy
    Anne Marie Dunphy

    Celiac Disease, Asthma & Dehydration

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 03/11/2009 - I recently had an unfortunate health experience related to celiac disease.  I learned long ago that it’s my responsibility to manage my own health, so I came up with a strategy that was successful.  Along the way, I also learned some important information that really helped me understand the problem and the eventual solution.  Perhaps this information will help you avoid a similar health crisis.  I’ve included links that can give you additional information.  Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor.  This is information that I have gathered based on my own experiences and research.

    Celiac Disease

    I have celiac disease. I manage it quite well through my diet.  However, if I ingest anything with gluten, for instance a wayward crouton in a restaurant salad, I have a severe reaction that starts within five minutes.  All or some of the following will occur: hives from head to toe, stomach cramps, uncontrollable diarrhea, vomiting, asthma, severe lethargy.  I fall into an uncontrollable sleep that takes about four hours to run its course.  Needless to say, I avoid gluten at all costs.

    A Bit of History

    Although I am a remarkable person (like all of us), my health history has been quite unremarkable.  Nothing was ever wrong with me and I wasn’t allergic to anything.  I can count on one hand how many times I’ve taken antibiotics in my entire life.  In the past 30+ years, I never went to the doctor for an illness.  I’ve had colds, various and sundry viruses and infections, but they ran their course with slowing down, plenty of rest and fluids.  I believe that the primary strategy should be to give your body the time to heal itself first, and if that fails look for an alternative strategy from your doctor.

    Imagine my surprise when about six years ago the symptoms of celiac disease manifested themselves.  (Note: I was going through an acute stressful time in my life when this occurred.)  Along the way, other unexpected food allergies have presented themselves as well.

    One of my favorite foods was peanut butter.  Since I was a little girl, I loved feasting on “peanut butter on spoon”.  Out of the blue one day, a typical teaspoon of one of my favorite foods sent me into an anaphylactic reaction.  And then a few months after that incident, a bite of a granola bar with cashews sent me on my first ambulance ride with a rapidly constricting throat to the emergency ward.  My favorite food is now a deadly poison.

    I’ve had mild intestinal reactions to all vinegars and vinegar products (a little balsamic is OK), more than three glasses of red wine (not white wine or champagne), milk and cream (not cheese, thank the Universe!).  I’ve also realized that I’m thirsty all the time.  It seems that no matter how much water I drink, I can’t seem to quench my thirst.  I even sleep with water next to my bed and drink several glasses throughout the night and still wake up thirsty.  The water goes right through me and doesn’t seem to be absorbed.  (I have recently been prodded, poked, examined and tested by a battery of doctors as a result of my once in 50-year checkup and they all agree that I’m the picture of health.)

    Both my mom and my grandmother suffered from asthma; my grandmother dealt with it her whole life.  When I have an asthmatic reaction, my wheezing and coughing sound just like theirs!  I remembered them being armed with their inhalers and their steroids at all times.  I also remembered that these medical weapons didn’t stop the asthma attacks or the wheezing or uncontrollable coughing.  They only dealt with the symptoms, not the underlying problem.  Mom’s asthma went away when she started eating a gluten free diet.

    The Incident

    So I’ve come to enjoy cooking.  Regardless of the disastrous results of my past cooking experiences well documented by my children, close friends and family, this new hobby relaxes me at the end of the day, is creative, saves money and insures a truly gluten and allergy free diet.

    I recently made a delicious French Onion and Ham Cream Soup.  It was inspired by some wonderful French spices I bought from Penzey Spices.  I made a big pot of the soup and had it for different meals throughout the week.  I didn’t notice at the time an increased feeling of lethargy, intestinal rumblings and increased thirst that got progressively worse through the week.

    And then it happened.  About five minutes after devouring the last of my delectable French Onion and Ham Cream Soup, the tell-tale signs of an oncoming asthma attack occurred: mucous pouring into my lungs, wheezing, airways closing up, unrelenting coughing.

    In addition, I had horrible abdominal cramping.  I was tremendously thirsty, but the water just seemed to go through me and make me even thirstier.  At about 4:00 am just as I was about to get myself to the hospital, I started to slowly stabilize, meaning I wasn’t getting worse.

    I slept for a little bit, then woke up coughing uncontrollably.  My throat was so parched it felt like sandpaper.  I dragged myself through a day of work exhausted, not being able to really get a good breath and feeling so very thirsty.

    That night I literally coughed all night long sitting straight up in a chair; I couldn’t lie down because of the coughing.  I couldn’t go to work the next day.  I needed to discover why this happened, how I can prevent it from happening again and implement an immediate strategy for managing this health crisis.


    I realized there was a relationship between several factors: celiac disease, since I had no allergies until it manifested itself; cow’s milk, which I knew was a highly allergic food; asthma, as the allergic reaction, and dehydration, because of the incessant thirst.  By understanding how all of these factors related to each other, I thought I could figure out a strategy to 1) get myself into a healthy state quickly and 2) prevent this health crisis from happening again. (Even thought I knew this was an asthma attack, I wanted to make doubly sure it wasn’t pneumonia or something similar.  I had no fever, chills, aches or pains, headache, or upper respiratory infection.  I was fine one minute and not fine the next.)


    Asthma is a disease in which inflammation of the airways causes airflow into and out of the lungs to be restricted.  When an asthma attack occurs, mucus production is increased, muscles of the bronchial tree become tight, and the lining of the air passages swells, reducing airflow and producing the characteristic wheezing and coughing.  Asthma symptoms are usually worse at night.

    There is high correlation between people who have celiac disease and people who have sensitivities to proteins found in cow's milk.  Milk is one of the most common food allergens in the American diet.  And most cows eat a lot of grain and perhaps there’s a link here.  Milk allergy symptoms can occur within minutes or hours after consuming the dairy product.  They can be triggered by a very small amount of milk protein in the system. 

    There is also a relationship between celiac disease, asthma and dehydration.  People with celiac disease are often very thirsty even after drinking lots of water.  And so are people with asthma.  If fact, many doctors now think that asthma is a symptom of the body managing its water supply.

    This is how it works…

    Water is needed for every function of the body. Our bodies are 75% water and our brains are 85% water.  Because of the water used in breathing, digestion, enzyme and hormone production, immune function, toxin removal and so on, we need to replace that water frequently throughout the day or our health will suffer.

    When we start to dehydrate, histamine production increases to conserve water in our bodies. 

    This is vital since our lungs must remain moist to work properly.  Excess histamine, a defense against losing more water, makes it difficult to breath and triggers an asthma attack.  Histamine also stimulates mucous production to help seal in moisture, but that also leads to increased breathing difficulties.  Histamines are also important for immune function, but during dehydration they are mostly used to look for water.  If dehydration becomes chronic, the immune system will suffer; allergies, both inhalant and food allergies, will result because histamine is important for the proper balance of Tcells, antibodies and so on.

    Elevated histamine in the lungs causes the spasm of the bronchioles.  This conserves moisture that would normally be lost during breathing.  The mucus that clogs up the airways is the body’s attempt to keep the airways from completely drying out.  Inflammation in the airways is the result of the body bringing more “micro-circulation” to the lungs as a result of dehydration.

    Common problem foods for people with asthma are dairy and gluten.  Both are very hard to digest and require a lot of water to break down.  If there is not enough water in the digestive tract when food is taken in, water will be pulled from other parts of the body and localized dehydration will result.  This can lead to asthma, among other problems.

    Allergy symptoms of any kind are a sign that we need to drink more water.  Antihistamines and most medicines, either directly or indirectly, actually are counterproductive for the body because they further dehydrate the body and shut off the body’s search for water.  Pain, inflammation and digestive problems are also typically signs of dehydration.  Dehydration is a common cause of migraines, for example. 

    And then I unexpectedly learned about salt…

    Salt is the other half of the hydration equation.  Salt is vital for the generation of hydroelectric energy and transmission of nerve impulses in all the cells.  Salt acts as a natural antihistamine through salt-sensing nerves on the tongue and plays a major role in regulating water.  Without enough salt, water is not absorbed.

    My Strategy

    The first step was to get myself in a healthy state.  My re-hydration plans included continually drinking filtered water even through the night, teaspoons of honey to soothe my raw throat when needed and pinches of pink Australian sea salt (a Christmas gift from my wonderful mom) on my tongue throughout the day and night when I felt I needed it, although any sea salt would do.  I also had vegetable juice and fruit juice for additional fluids.

    I noticed the salt working in a couple of hours.  I was beginning to absorb the water (I didn’t have to pee every time I drank some water).  It took about two days before the thirst went away.  It was great waking up without a parched throat.  The coughing was still uncontrollable, especially at night, but instead of a constant, non-productive coughing and horrible wheezing, the mucus was beginning to become looser.  It took another three nights before I could sleep lying down, but the mucus had really broken up.  The coughing was actually allowing the mucus to get out of my lungs.  It took about six days to feel like myself again.  I did gain about five pounds.  But I lost it quickly and it was fat lost, not precious water.  Besides, there’s nothing glamorous about walking around in a dehydrated, sickly state.

    The second step is to not let this happen again.  I’m now drinking no less than 10 eight-ounce glasses of water every day with a pinch of salt on my tongue if I feel I need it.  I need about ¼ teaspoon of salt for every quart of water I drink.  After a lifetime of poor medical advice, I now know that salt is my friend.  If I drink coffee or wine or if I get the nutty idea to exercise, I have to drink more water.  And no more milk and cream - at least until I’m stabilized for awhile.

    If I feel an asthma attack coming on, the best treatment is to drink 2-3 cups of water and put a pinch of sea salt on my tongue.  This will provide my body with the water it needs and the salt will send a signal to my brain to relax the bronchioles by letting it know relief is coming. 


    As difficult as this last health adventure was, I learned something that has changed the way I feel and has optimized my health.  I found the root of the problem and fixed it instead of following mainstream medical thinking and putting a band aid on the symptoms.  It’s really scary when it feels like your body is turning on you, and very empowering when you use science and knowledge to get yourself back.  I’ve always said when it comes to business, “the market speaks, just listen.”  I now need to take that advice for myself.  My body speaks; I just have to listen!

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Guest Mary Joan Dunphy


    Wish I had known this connection 20+ years ago when I had the same situation with asthma myself. Having been one of the earliest celiac diagnoses over 73 years ago, it wasn't until several of my children were diagnosed (Anne Marie included) that I became aware of the lifelong term of the disease. I've gluten free for almost 15 years and all those nasty symptoms of other illnesses have completely disappeared.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Unbelievable- this makes total sense when it is explained this way. Now I understand why I am always dry- have so many allergies and why I literally CRAVE salt! Thanks for a great article.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    Guest wendy cohan, rn


    Hi Anne Marie,


    Interesting article! Having acute asthma attacks must be very scary, and I'm glad you've found ways to try to manage them. You should know that the adrenals are severely affected by accidental gluten exposure in Celiac disease, or accidental exposure to any specific allergen. The adrenal glands have to manage this anaphylactic reaction by releasing specific hormones, and after repeat 'events' can become fatigued. Another thing the adrenals manage is fluid balance, through the action of the adrenal hormone aldosterone. You can get some insight into the gluten-adrenal connection by reading my recent article on celiac.com (under 'W' for Wendy Cohan, articles, 'For Persistent Fatigue on a Gluten-Free Diet, Consider Adrenal Dysfunction', but I also highly recommend reading the book 'Adrenal Fatigue - The 21st Century Stress Syndrome' by Dr. Wilson.


    Everything about your story sounds very familiar from the descriptions of adrenal dysfunction he describes, and I've experienced. Adrenal dysfunction can be determined, at least initially, by having an early morning cortisol level drawn, or by having a saliva-based adrenal function panel done.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    This makes so much sense. I have had all the same symptoms you describe! Next time, if there is one, I will try the salt and water solution! Thank you for a terrific article!

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    My daughter is undergoing testing for celiacs. She way over uses salt and I kept saying that's her body trying to get her to drink more to correct something.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I really enjoyed reading the articles. I just found out I have celiac disease and going to this web site helped me begin to know how to begin with the disease. Start with the water and sea salt.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    This article neatly rounds off a few little health conundrums I've experienced.

    I had mild asthma as a teenager, but as this went when I was an adult, I had assumed that it was just a childhood illness. It hadn't occurred to me that cutting out dairy when I was 21 might have been the cause.

    In the last 5-6 years I also noticed that I needed to drink a glass of water before bed, otherwise I could not sleep, but since I gave up gluten a year ago, I don't need to do that anymore.

    2 years ago, I had a bad bout of asthma: it wasn't severe enough to need medication, but it did last over 2 weeks. At that point I hadn't had asthma since a child, so I was rather puzzled. I wondered whether it was the potassium supplement I'd just started taking, I couldn't see what the link would be, but when I stopped the potassium, the asthma went away (along with my puffy ankles, which I'd never had before).

    Perhaps it is because potassium plays a counter-balancing role with sodium. So if you have too much potassium, you can have a *relative* deficiency of sodium. This might have been possible in my case because I don't eat ready made foods loaded with salt, nor was I adding salt to my food.

    I can assure you I'm adding salt now though!

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Thank you so much. I am recently divorced & thought it was stress causing many symptoms you have outlined. A month ago my 3 year old daughter was diagnosed with chronic celiac disease. In the last ten years I have always thought there is something terribly wrong with my digestive system, but doctors have said their is nothing wrong with me. It's only in the past month I have realized an onset of asthma-like symptoms. I have nearly admitted myself to hospital twice (once after a curry & pasta dish, the other after Pizza & beer, neither of which I ever normally have). In the last few years I have also started getting hives once in a while, and consistently get diarrhea, stomach cramps, and chronic lethargy after going to particularly Italian restaurants where there is a large emphasis on pasta dishes. You have given me hope that my symptoms are now manageable, and will get myself tested tomorrow. Thank you again.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    This article fits well with what I am experiencing. I was recently checked our for a thyroid problem but my numbers fell in the "normal range"...even if it was only by .05. Regardless I knew I still felt awful. I've been looking around on my own and it eventually led to celiac with an autoimmune disorder...but none of this explained my EXCESSIVE thirst. I'm so thirsty I cant walk to the bathroom without water. Then I found your article. My great aunt has celiac, and its now been discovered that three of her sisters (my grandmother included) who died from stomach and intestinal cancer had untreated celiac. I have had vague symptoms in the past but they are all peaking now. The GI symptoms, the INSANE thirst, the autoimmune. Your article was a big help, made me feel like I have a better idea of what my body is trying to tell me.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    What I have learned to love about celiac's is our ability to put together so many diverse symptoms and isolated diseases into a coherent system of coordinated events happening inside our bodies. The holistic approach to your asthma and the conclusion you came to make so much sense! Since finding out I was a celiac I've had to think way more about why I have even the slightest symptom of discomfort. It has led me to understand my body better than any of my friends who just go to doctors to have prescriptions filled. Thank you so much for your contribution to this site and for reaffirming that we aren't crazy or hypochondriacs - we actually know what's really going on!

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Join the conversation

    You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
    Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • About Me

    Anne Marie Dunphy is the CFO and co-founder of identiMetrics, a biometric fingerscanning company based in Philadelphia. Her diverse background includes executive positions in investment banking and business technology; she co-founded a chain of childcare centers and started her career as a teacher. She received her MBA from Villanova University and her BA in Music and History from Arcadia University. She has studied holistic health for many years. Anne Marie was diagnosed with celiac 6 years ago.

  • Create New...