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Allergy and Intolerance by Lydia S. Boeken M.D.


Through his writings, we know that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, had already recognized the presence of allergic reactions in people as early as ancient times. However, the term allergy is a relatively new one, as compared to many other commonly used medical terms. In 1906, Viennese pediatrician Baron Clemens von Pirquet used the term for the first time to describe an altered response of his patients bodies. Von Pirquet believed that this altered reaction manifested itself in changes of the immune system, effected by external influences on the body, such as: food intake, the air breathed or direct skin contact. The term allergen (the substance responsible for the altered reaction) was born. At that point in time, however, von Pirquet had no means of scientifically proving that these immunological changes actually occurred in the body. It was not until the mid-1920s, that a second significant event occurred.

Researchers found that, by injecting a minute quantity of purified allergen under the skin, certain individuals would develop a clear skin response; a welt, with or without itching and redness, could be provoked. This positive skin test for allergies would show itself most prominently in patients with hay fever, asthma, chronic rhinitis, hives and eczema. The prick test became a method of demonstrating the involvement of the immune system in allergic reactions. However, the precise biological reason for the reaction continued to remain a mystery.

It was not until the Sixties, when an important discovery occurred which provided long-awaited scientific support for the classical allergy theory and removed any doubts about the relationship of the immune system with allergies. This breakthrough came about with the scientific discovery of immunoglobulin E (IgE) by a Japanese couple named Ishizaka.

Classical Allergic Reaction

The following are the chain of events which happen in allergic reactions:

  • An allergen must be present in the body. This allergen is the substance which causes us to have an abnormal immunological response. Allergens tend to be protein molecules. Interestingly enough, the immune system only detects particles of a certain size as potential troublemakers and protein molecules are just the right size. In a small number of cases, the body actually responds to molecules other than proteins. These molecules, which are generally much smaller, are called haptens. By combining with protein molecules, haptens form larger complexes which can then be detected by the immune system.
  • The allergen is detected by the B cells. These are specialized immune cells, capable of producing antibodies. Just like allergens, antibodies are protein molecules, which have the capacity to neutralize allergens.
  • Every B cell produces its own, specific antibody, depending on the type of intruder it needs to respond to. It is easy to understand why the body must have a ready pool of millions of antibodies, in order to combat these numerous offenders. There are five main categories of antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD and IgE) which the body releases under different circumstances (for instance to fight off various infections, etc.). In the case of allergies, the body produces the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE), first discovered by the Ishizakas.
  • Usually, antibodies will bind directly to the appropriate damaging substance and neutralize it. However, IgE deviates from this common path. It first attaches one of its legs to one of the bodys numerous mast cells. The other leg is used to hold on to the offending allergen. This action signals the mast cells to begin disintegrating, thereby releasing histamine.

Histamine is a chemical substance responsible for a great number of complaints which may arise during allergic reactions. It causes muscle cramps and an inflammation-like process with redness and swelling of mucous membranes.

Allergic reactions can occur under a variety of circumstances. For instance, inhaling certain substances, such as grass pollen, house dust, etc., may cause an allergic response. However, the consumption of certain foods may do the same. Allergies typically bring on complaints very rapidly upon contact with the allergen. Complaints may vary from a runny nose, sinusitis, earache or runny eyes to itching of the skin, eczema and shortness of breath.


Conventional medicine can easily diagnose and treat allergies for foods or inhalants. Here, the so-called RAST test plays a very important role, because this test can demonstrate the presence of IgE.

However, demonstrating the presence of intolerance is more difficult. In this situation, similar to the case of classical allergies, the body responds abnormally and, in addition, the immune system does not produce IgE. It quite often takes much longer for complaints to come on, thereby masking the possible link between the offensive substance and the complaints themselves.

These are only a few of the reasons why food intolerance is considered a fairly controversial concept in conventional medicine. Intolerance can be responsible for a wide variety of complaints which, at first glance, seem to lack a plausible explanation. Intolerance can manifest themselves as the following:

  • Gastrointestinal complaints: stomach ache, irritable bowel, Crohns disease, ulcerative colitis
  • Skin complaints: itching, eczema, hives, acne (in adults)
  • Joint and muscle complaints: ranging from atypical pains to rheumatoid arthritis
  • Headache and migraine
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Asthma, chronic rhinitis or sinusitis
  • Pre-menstrual syndrome
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Sleeping disorders

Diagnosing Intolerance

It is impossible to accurately demonstrate intolerance through conventional testing methods.

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  • Another useful test is the IgG(4) antibody test. Here, the presence of IgG(4) antibodies is determined. These antibodies are the slowly occurring variety, which do not appear in the blood until 24 to 48 hours after exposure to an offending food or substance. The reliability of this test varies between 80 and 90%.



In the treatment of inhalant allergies (such as asthma, hay fever) and food allergies and intolerance, avoidance (elimination) of allergens plays an extremely important role. In the case of food sensitivities, either the cytotoxic test or IgG(4) test can help determine reactions to specific foods. Based on the test results, an elimination/rotation diet can be specifically tailored.

Foods causing strong reactions in these tests, should (temporarily) be excluded from the diet. More moderate reactions allow for rotation of certain food items in the diet. These may be eaten once every four days. Especially during the first week(s) of the diet, withdrawal symptoms, similar to complaints stemming from the cessation of coffee, tobacco or alcohol consumption, may occur. The body seems to crave offending food items. Generally, these withdrawal symptoms disappear after a couple of weeks. Concurrently, those complaints relating to food sensitivity also diminish.

Using this dietary approach, the reaction to food allergens may decrease in the course of time. After a three month moratorium, reintroduction of forbidden food items can be attempted, one at a time. In this way, food items still causing reactions can be isolated more easily. Often, at least part of existing intolerance completely disappear after an elimination/rotation diet.

With the treatment for inhalant allergies, elimination is also the first step. It is obvious that patients having an allergy for cats or dogs, should avoid any contact with these pets. The situation becomes more difficult when dealing with allergies to grass or tree pollen, since total elimination is basically impossible. The same goes for house dust mite allergy. The house dust mite lives in mattresses, pillows, carpeting, drapes, upholstery, etc. Through mite-killing pesticides, special mattress and pillow covers, non-carpeted floors, etc. reasonable results can be obtained.


Medicines for inhalant allergies, such as antihistamines (Triludan), corticosteroids (Prednisone, Pulmicort, Becotide), cromoglycates (Lomudal, Lomusol), and airway dilating medication (Ventolin, Berotec, Atrovent) do suppress symptoms, however, they do not cure the allergy! In the realm of conventional medicine, effective medications for food allergy and intolerance do not exist at all.


Enzyme-potentiated desensitisation (EPD) and the provocation/neutralization method are very effective treatments for food allergy/intolerance and inhalant allergy problems. These methods tackle allergy problems at the root.

  • During EPD treatment, a small quantity of a food or inhalant allergen mixture is injected intradermally into the skin, in conjunction with the enzyme beta-glucuronidase. This combination causes the body to gradually adjust its exaggerated responses to food and inhalant allergens. In this way, the immune system is readjusted and reset. Initially, the injections have to be given once every two months. Gradually, however, the intervals between injections become longer and the injections can often be discontinued after a time. According to conservative estimates, at least 80% of those patients treated with EPD show considerable improvement in the course of time.
  • Provocation/neutralization can be used both diagnostically and therapeutically. Here, separate extracts of food or inhalants, suspected as possibly offending, are injected intradermally. This causes a welt to appear in the skin. After 10 minutes, the size and nature (firmness, color, etc.) of the welt are evaluated. A positive welt will generally bring on symptoms (provocation). Depending on the size and nature of the welt, as well as, the presence of symptoms, varying concentrations are injected, until a dose is found which does not cause any welt changes or symptoms. This is the neutralizing dose. Injections with the proper neutralizing dose will bring on immediate protection against the symptoms caused by the offending food and/or inhalant.

Copyright © 1996 the Amsterdam Klikiek

For further information please contact:

Amsterdam Kliniek
Reigersbos 100
1107 ES Amsterdam Z.O.
Telephone 31 (0)20 697 53 61
Telefax 31 (0)20 697 53 67
Lydia S. Boeken M.D. London/Amsterdam welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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34 Responses:

Elizabeth Van Sickle
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said this on
24 Oct 2007 9:16:21 AM PST
Excellent resource and very helpful.

charles lynn
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said this on
24 Oct 2007 12:23:20 PM PST
Extremely informative, thought provoking, and written so that it is easy to understand.

an unknown user
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said this on
30 Oct 2007 7:07:33 AM PST
Very clearly written; fully answered my question.

Jodi Zeller
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said this on
31 Oct 2007 9:05:15 AM PST
I was just diagnosed with celiac disease and I found a lot of good information in this article.

Dale Jones
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said this on
01 Nov 2007 4:29:19 AM PST
Very informative, my husband came up negative for celiac disease, though he displays all of the symptoms when not kept on a gluten free diet. His sister was diagnosed in her mid 50's with celiac. Your site has been so helpful and I have learned so much. thank you Scott.

Jean emery
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said this on
03 Nov 2007 4:35:42 PM PST
I have not been diagnosed with celiac but instead have a history of diverticulitis for almost 6 years. last year I had a colon resection and they removed 4 inches of my colon. I felt much better till 3 months ago when I had a questionable diverticulitis attack and was put on antibiotics. 1 month ago I had another attack very similar left-lower quadrant pain and was again put on antibiotics. In fact my MD even suggested I should probably consider surgery again which made me very depressed. SO another health care provider suggested that maybe I had a gluten allergy as I did eat tons of wheat products. SO for 3 weeks I have been doing gluten free and am feeling so much better--very little pain and gas and it is a wonderful feeling. Have you ever heard of someone getting relief with symptoms like mine? Thanks JEAN

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said this on
16 Nov 2007 11:16:19 AM PST
I live in a small town in North Carolina and most people have never heard of celiac disease so I read everything I can on this disease because I know so little about it ....

K beams
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said this on
17 Nov 2007 2:30:49 PM PST
My son has both celiac and diverticulitis-please stay on the diet. He also has trouble with popcorn-the hulls stick to his intestines and cause the diverticulitis-as long as stays on the gluten-free diet and off popcorn, he is well!!

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said this on
26 Nov 2007 5:10:20 AM PST
Very interesting reading...Will find out myself this week if I have celiac disease.

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said this on
09 Dec 2007 5:23:09 AM PST
Very informative. Thank you. I am in the process of being tested for celiac disease. I had never heard of it until I decided to give an Asthma/Allergist doctor a try.

Rebecca Cody
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said this on
11 Dec 2007 7:47:20 PM PST
I found this article explained allergies and intolerances very clearly. I am a nutritional therapist and I found this better than what I read for my classes.

Mike Munday
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said this on
18 Dec 2007 1:46:56 PM PST
A very good interesting and informative article! My question is this; my son has been diagnosed as a 'Celiac' and I did have classic symptoms of a 'Celiac' but I am surprisingly not one! I was small for my age when I was young as is my son, practically twinny!. Is it possible to grow out of this condition, keeping in mind that I have read up about latent celiac disease, or is there not enough data on a control group which were as children and are not any more? I do realize the importance of early diagnosis on prevention of other complications but I do wonder that maybe the body can work wonders by itself!!! I am just a thinking human dad that wants to have all possible data on this condition and not just what is in 'favor'. If any one has any positive info please let me know. Note I am totally supportive of my son but I really do want to here all sides of the cases! Thanks!

Carol Frilegh
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said this on
31 Dec 2007 7:14:36 AM PST
A compact and comprehensive overview of celiac disease. The symptoms can be so puzzling and sometimes contradictory that it is hard to 'nail it down.' Sometimes the test results aren't accurate and as my doc said, 'If it looks like a duck, walks and talks like a duck, treat it like it's real.' I started The Specific Carbohydrate Diet before being tested so never had the biopsy.

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said this on
31 Dec 2007 11:22:24 PM PST
I was diagnosed a celiac two years ago (in Jan, 2005). I am from India (Punjab) and heard about the problem for the first time then. Ever since I have tried to do some research on the subject to be aware of its implications. This is definitely one of the good articles. Thanks

Nancy Rice
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said this on
21 Jan 2008 12:28:44 AM PST
My husband does not understand allergies (or the need for gluten free bread) so I am very happy to have this explanation to let him read. Thank you.

Alex F.
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said this on
22 Feb 2008 12:42:14 PM PST
I came across your excellent article today as part of doing my research for a possible diagnosis for severe allergic reaction & 3 trips to the ER this week. My sister was diagnosed with Celiac 2 years ago & I have been diagnosed with crohns disease. Your article describe to the letter the extreme symptoms I have been facing. My physician at my urging order a blood test to check for the immunoglobulin E (IgE), I hope we the results will confirm the mystery.

Tom Griffin
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said this on
01 Mar 2008 7:19:31 AM PST
This site is wonderful! I would love to see a SAFE GLUTEN FREE Restaurants....or a SAFE GLUTEN FREE Comprehensive Menu that can be used on this website for when going out to a restaurant.....I get very, very sick...Thanks~!


said this on
03 Mar 2008 1:39:14 PM PST
This article was very helpful. My daughter was diagnosed with Celiac in December 2007. She was only 13 months old at the time. Since then, so many people that I talk to say, 'Oh, she's still a baby, she will grow out of it. Kids grow out of allergies, don't they?' This article will help me explain to them, the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. Thank you!

Bob G.
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said this on
26 Mar 2008 10:31:26 AM PST
I was diagnosed for celiac as a toddler, but seemingly went asymptomatic in childhood.Three years ago,at 42 years old, I started exhibiting symptoms again (though I didn't recognize it as such at the time). I began eliminating foods from my diet and noticed some improvement after I stopped consuming gluten . I had no idea of he pervasiveness of it in many processed foods until I found this website . Though I'm still not officially diagnosed as celiac, my abstention from all things gluten has improved my overall health considerably...So thank you

Alex P
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said this on
11 Apr 2008 3:26:18 AM PST
Exactly what I needed to know regarding the effects of Gluten on my body. Thank you soooo much for this information, which I haven't been able to find anywhere else.

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said this on
23 May 2008 2:23:39 PM PST
I was diagnosed with a gluten, tomato, strawberry, pecan, grape and orange intolerance through the ALCAT test, which I received through a nutritionist at Women to Women in Yarmouth Maine (founded by Christine Northrup). I also discovered a variety of other foods that gave me mild intolerance - my sister and father both have Celiac, but I always had a less intense reaction.

Edith Nel
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said this on
07 Jun 2008 12:29:56 AM PST
I recently started noticing that my runny nose was not clearing with any medication prescribed by my doctor, decided to look up gluten intolerance and stumbled onto this site, I will now explore this avenue.

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said this on
14 Aug 2008 9:45:34 AM PST
re #17, Tom -- every restaurant will serve you a salad, no croûtons, oil and vinegar or lemon dressing. Every restaurant will serve you grilled non-breaded chicken or other meat. It really isn't that hard. I think sometimes we make a lot out of how difficult things are when they actually aren't very complicated. I eat out a fair amount and I'm very careful and it's pretty easy.

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said this on
25 Aug 2008 10:45:14 AM PST
From the responses to this article, it seems that it has been misleading for some people. This article, although a fine summary of food intolerances, does not describe Celiac disease. Gluten intolerance is not Celiac disease. In a world full of medical unknowns, we DO know the exact mechanism of Celiac disease. The body produces an antibody response (IgA) to a protein called gliadin (a small, indigestible part of gluten) as it comes through the small bowel. This creates a hostile inflammatory environment in the wall of the small bowel which destroys the absorptive surface. At the same time, the antibody responding to gliadin, recognizes an enzyme (tTG) because gliadin is bound to it. tTG is found in a lot of different tissues, including the skin. This is why Celiac disease can be called an autoimmune disease. If you eliminate gluten from your diet, the antibody response is eliminated and all returns to normal. Antibodies to tTG can be measured from the blood giving the diagnosis of Celiac disease. This test picks up 90-100% of people with Celiac disease. But the gold standard of diagnosis is endoscopy with small bowel biopsy. If you haven't had this, then you can't exclude Celiac disease. It is true that you can be gluten intolerant, and it is true that you can have an IgE mediated allergy to wheat, but these are not Celiac disease.

Billy Jo
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said this on
30 Jun 2012 10:43:07 AM PST
I don't think this article claimed to be a definitive guide to coeliac disease. I have allergies, including wheat, and I found it very informative and helpful.

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said this on
17 Sep 2008 5:50:24 PM PST
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in February of 2006, and it has been very hard for me to explain to people the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, and after I referred them to this article, they finally understood!

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said this on
15 Oct 2008 4:30:21 AM PST
I have been searching and reading for several years on the subject. Yes, celiac is a damaging thing, however, intolerance is pretty nasty too. The sickness and life alteration it causes is horrific. I have intolerance big time! It is so not worth it for me to try and live a life with wheat allergens. We are all different and let this be a help for ALL of us as it is! I enjoyed reading everyone's spin on it here.

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said this on
12 Apr 2009 6:57:30 AM PST
Kelly, I believe you are mistaken. The endoscopy/biopsy was considered the gold standard 50 years ago, when today's sophisticated blood tests were not available. The biopsy has a surprisingly high false-negative rate, as villi damage is often patchy, not visible to the naked eye, and therefore easily missed; healthy areas taken for biopsy might be right next to a damaged area.

People with dermatitis herpetiformis don't always have villi damage, so it is evident that the autoimmune reaction of celiac can bypass the intestines and not cause villi damage.

In addition, with adult-onset celiac, many people with 'gluten intolerance' might actually have early-stage celiac. They would be having the same dangerous autoimmune reactions as anyone with biopsy-diagnosed celiac, and would need to be every bit as careful with their diet.

If you go onto the forum of this site, you will find several members who were severely ill, some nearly dying, but all tests for celiac were negative. Yet, they were only able to recover their lives by removing gluten from their diet; these people were eventually diagnosed as celiac, as their immune systems were obviously involved in a way consistent with celiac, but they should never had to practically lose their lives because of such narrow diagnostic criteria. Their symptoms and dietary responses should have been caught long before, and weren't because of doctors stubbornly clinging to that narrow diagnostic criteria from half a century ago.

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said this on
14 Apr 2009 5:47:43 AM PST
Mike Munday, no it's not possible to grow out of Celiac disease. This is a great article, very good information.

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said this on
28 Apr 2009 8:11:35 PM PST
After 6 years of my Doctor telling me I had everything from IBS to Celiac to Diver, last year I had my GALLBLADDER removed and now I am back to normal. DONT STOP ASKING QUESTIONS AND PURSUING, my doctor robbed 6 years of my life because of his incompetence.

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said this on
03 Oct 2009 2:51:34 PM PST
John: Actually, celiac disease has sickened many a gallbladder, mine included. I was very sick for a long time and was discovered to have gallstones. My gallbladder had to come out. I felt better, but had trouble regaining weight. I also happened to have a mysterious skin problem on one arm. While my digestive symptoms improved for a while, eventually they got worse again and my surgeon suggested I had celiac disease. He's not a fan of people consuming wheat anyway, not if they want to stay young and healthy. After about 5 weeks on the diet, I'm much, much better. My twin sister started the diet too, and she's doing well also. I think you should have the blood tests now, before your health goes downhill again and you want to quit eating gluten immediately.

Marion Donald
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said this on
02 May 2009 9:29:08 AM PST
I've read the comments. I've come to the conclusion that personal food testing and experimenting is about the best way to find out if one has Celiac Sprue. I'm so much better since eating mostly fresh, steamed veggies and very little non-breaded lean meat/fish.

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said this on
26 Nov 2009 10:09:45 AM PST
After suffering from intestinal pain since a I was a child now at 41 a dear friend of mine nagged me to go off gluten for 3 years. I tried everything to avoid it, I went to multiple doctors, gastro doctor and had a Colonoscopy and still they found nothing except for a lazy colon, which I kind of figured since I only go about once a week, ouch. I fit the bill for Asthma, Fybromyalgia, migraines, and have had depression my entire life. So finally I decided to take my friends advise and stopped eating gluten. Now a year later I am still gluten free and feel great. I find the website as my bible to all the information I need. Recipes, updates, read other peoples ideas and comments, it is just wonderful. Thank you for having such a clean easy flow site that is up to date.

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said this on
07 Feb 2011 4:44:43 AM PST
I accepted my internal medicine doctor's diagnosis of IBS, but have always tried to be careful not to eat too much wheat/gluten. Nonetheless, the symptoms listed in your article are creeping up on me again, so I think I will see a Naturopath that has been recommended to me. I am very grateful for your information on the presence/non-presence of igE being indicative of whether one has an allergy or an intolerance.

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IF your still getting cramps look into supplementing with Magnesium, either Natural Vitality Calm or Doctors best in the glycinate powder. Depending on other symptoms and the way your body works depends on which form is best. Calm is best if you have hard stools, do not go daily with a BM you sta...

Great minds think alike! ?

There is a test called Biocard available in Canada. It is a home test kit. Should be cheaper than $125. Biocard is NOT a genetic test though. Genetic tests are of limited usefulness.

I got diagnosed with POTS after celiac diagnosis. I get Raynaud's phenomenon, muscle cramps/spasms, and had hives for a year and half. I'm not sure if there is any correlation between the symptoms but a lot of celiacs have multiple issues

Both sets are made on shared lines. That was the point of my response. Many people have gotten sick from Gluten free products from Frito Lay.