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Allergies can come in many shapes and sizes. While some people can enjoy beautiful weather, others avoid going outdoors at all costs. The same situation may occur for people watching others enjoy an endless variety of foods while they must be very selective. Those people who suffer from the incessant symptoms of food or environmental allergies may wonder, why?
Have you ever wondered what causes your stuffy nose and sneezing? It’s not just a string of bad luck; whether your allergy symptoms occur in direct result to the local pollen count, different types of food or your neighbor’s cat, there are certain responses from our immune system that lead to our level of reaction.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly what causes a person to develop allergies, when this can happen, and whether allergic symptoms are worse in adulthood or childhood.
The body’s immune system generates different antibodies to protect us from illnesses. For allergies, the immune system generates Immunoglobulin E, also known as IgE, to aid in combating your allergy symptoms. IgE is a chemical messenger that travels to cells to relay information that a chemical defense against a foreign invader is needed. Allergic individuals have high IgE levels against benign environmental exposures such as pollen or dander. Food can also cause high levels of IgE.
With time, the immune system develops what’s known as immunological memory. Normally this is a helpful immune response which can enable your body to respond more quickly. This is what allow vaccines to work. In allergy, however, this response is magnified and your repeat exposures cause recurrent overreactions of the immune system. This produces an allergic response that may include sneezing, coughing, sniffling and congestion or increased asthma symptoms. IgE antibodies are custom made for each type of allergen. This is why you can be allergic to one or two specific foods or pollens and tolerate others without a problem.
Allergies can develop at any point in a person’s life. One factor that increases your chance is your family history. If one parent is allergic there is a 30-50% chance of their offspring developing allergies. This jumps to 60-80% if both parents are allergic.
As discussed in our blog post, What Causes Allergies Later in Life, children aren’t the only ones who should be aware. Adult-onset allergies can occur seemingly out of nowhere due to exposure to new allergens in the environment, family history and changes in the immune system.
There’s no way to avoid getting adult-onset allergies if you’re susceptible to them, since you can’t reasonably expect to know every trigger that could cause an allergic reaction and then avoid it.
A question commonly ask at diagnosis is how likely is it that my allergy will improve with time? The severity and types of symptoms you had at your initial reaction and the number of foods to which you are allergic can help predict your chances of “outgrowing” the allergy. In addition we know that milk, egg and soy allergies most often improve with time while peanut, tree nut, fish and shellfish are less likely to improve.
It’s not recommended you simply assume that you’ve outgrown a reaction to an allergen; instead, you should visit an allergist for testing. For food allergies, if your test results indicate that it is safe, you will participate in an in office oral food challenge to determine if you still have symptoms.
Per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) and 2013 data, 28 million kids across the United States have allergies. As many as 50 million adults may get reactions to allergens as well.
While more adults have allergies in the United States than children, is there an age group that has it worse? Research that appeared in a 2012 article at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Massachusetts suggests that adults may be the most at risk for intense, serious symptoms. Adult behaviors such as taking certain medications (like ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and NSAIDs, even aspirin) and drinking alcohol may increase risk for severe anaphylaxis. Exercise and having asthma can also increase reaction severity. Of course young children, who cannot communicate symptoms, can also have severe reactions which go unnoticed and progress to dangerous levels.
A severe allergic reaction, which can be triggered by foods or venom (insect stings), is called anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening emergency condition in which the patient goes into shock, cannot breathe, and may have vomiting, nausea, and skin rashes .Anaphylaxis can occur instantaneously or sometimes minutes after eating an allergen or being stung. . Epinephrine can control cases of anaphylaxis that are caught immediately. The longer the patient goes without treatment, the greater the likelihood that death can occur. For this reason patients with a history of severe anaphylaxis are encouraged to always have an in date epinephrine injector available.
Allergies can begin in childhood, adulthood and anytime in between. If you’re dealing with a new or persistent case of allergies, we encourage you to reach out to us at Carolina Asthma & Allergy. We serve patients throughout North and South Carolina.
Our board-certified doctors are experts in food allergies, asthma, insect bite allergies and other uncommon, yet often serious allergies that require specialized care. We even offer anaphylaxis prevention and treatment, immunodeficiency care and treatments for the lungs, skin, throat, nose, ears, and eyes. To set up your appointment today, contact us today!