You’ve enjoyed the very best of springtime weather all your life. You’ve enjoyed the deliciousness of your favorite fruits for countless years. These small privileges may have brought you nothing but delight, but now, you notice that delight is accompanied by discomfort.
Does your throat itch after eating a tasty apple or peach? Do your eyes water and itch after a springtime walk outside? Even though you may not have experienced allergies as a child, you very well could have developed allergies as an adult.
Can I develop allergies as an adult?
Studies show that we are most likely to develop allergies during our infant and toddler stages, with around 30% of children affected by childhood allergies. While allergies most commonly develop in individuals during these younger years, adults are always susceptible to developing allergies as they get older, their lifestyle changes or their environment changes.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), over 50 million American adults experience some kind of reaction to an allergen, with food-related allergies among the most common.
How do adult-onset allergies manifest?
Understanding how these late-stage allergies develop is just as important as learning why they do.
To develop an allergy, your body requires some level of exposure to the irritant. This introduction can come via interactions with your everyday environment, such as eating your first peanut or finding yourself on the receiving end of a bee’s stinger for the first time.
This exposure allows your immune system to familiarize itself with these (typically) harmless substances and labels them as “okay” for future interactions.
However, it doesn’t take much for the immune system to identify something as out-of-the-ordinary. Should there be a miscommunication, these seemingly harmless triggers can be labeled as dangerous by your immune system. The immune system then produces an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) to protect the body. This antibody acts as a messenger and alerts cells of the need for chemical defense.
Over time, the body develops an immunological memory toward the allergen, and, through repeated exposures, the immune system’s attacks cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What causes adult-onset allergies?
The exact logistics of why adult-onset allergies develop when they do can be somewhat puzzling.
In some instances, an individual may already be living with an allergy that they aren’t aware of. This can make new symptoms appear as if they have materialized out of nowhere. In actuality, the person may have simply had no previous contact with the allergen to cause a symptom flare-up.
Environmental changes bring these allergies to light in many cases. For example, a person may be completely unaware that they have been allergic to pet dander their entire life until they find themselves with sneezing fits after adopting a new dog. Another individual moving from up North may have had no known allergic history but now finds themselves with itchy eyes or a runny nose living amongst unfamiliar pollen in South Carolina.
One common allergy that occurs within adults is oral allergy syndrome (OAS), which is caused by cross reacting allergens (proteins) found in both pollens and raw fruits, vegetables and some nuts. If an individual experiences itching in their throat or mouth, or swelling in their lips, mouth or tongue, this could be a sign that they have OAS. In fact, OAS isn’t a food allergy as most would think, it’s actually a pollen allergy that manifests when you eat certain foods that have been exposed to certain pollen. For patients experiencing symptoms of OAS, a board-certified allergist can use a simple skin test to determine whether the individual is suffering from a food allergy or a pollen allergy.
Some adults can also develop food allergies after adolescence, with the most common onset adult allergy being shellfish. If you believe you may have developed a food allergy, it’s important to seek treatment from a board-certified allergist to receive proper education, ensure your symptoms are under control and become aware of your triggers.
Unfortunately, allergies do not follow a strict set of rules in their development. A person’s body is as unique as their personality and allergies can develop on their own. You may find gradual changes in your reaction to particular substances in these cases.
How are adult-onset allergies treated?
The defining trait of adult-onset allergies is simply the stage in life during which they develop. In most other aspects, these allergies are similar to those developed during childhood and, because of this, treatment of symptoms remains similar.
The first step to finding a treatment is figuring out what allergens are causing your allergic reaction symptoms. Administering a physical exam, taking a detailed history, and performing allergy testing are the first steps your board-certified allergist will walk through to determine just that. Once the triggers for your allergic symptoms are identified, your board-certified allergist will create a custom-tailored plan just for you, which could include a variety of treatment options.
Immunotherapy is currently considered the closest option allergy sufferers can pursue when it comes to complete allergy relief. By using common immunotherapies such as allergy shots, board-certified allergists introduce small doses of the allergen into the immune system. It is the goal of these immunotherapies to retrain the immune system to see the irritant as a non-threat.
Over-the-counter medications are a standard treatment for most allergy symptoms as well, however, they aren’t a long-lasting “cure” when it comes to finding relief. While store-bought medications will assist in alleviating individuals from unwanted symptoms, they aren’t as effective as immunotherapy treatments. Immunotherapy actually changes your immune system to respond differently when it comes into contact with your allergen(s), so that you may find permanent relief without relying on medications.
If you believe you are experiencing a newly formed allergic reaction, your local board-certified allergist can help you determine the cause of your symptoms and prescribe the correct medication or recommendation for relief.