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What Causes Allergies Later in Life?

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J. Gray Norris, MD
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J. Gray Norris, MD

With the back-and-forth weather, your allergy symptoms might have started back up. It’s confusing for many of us. You probably have a friend or family member in your life who doesn’t understand your allergy symptoms, because they don’t have them. Perhaps they had allergies as a child that they outgrew. Maybe they’ve never experienced allergies at all.

Does that mean this person is likely to go through the rest of their lives without allergies? It could happen, but it just as easily could not. Even in adulthood, you’re not immune to developing allergies. Here’s why that is.

What Are Adult-Onset Allergies?

Adult-onset allergies are those allergy symptoms that manifest later in life. This could be younger adulthood, such as in a person’s 20s, to their senior years, when a person is 70 or 80 years old. Typically, if you lived through your 20s and your 30s without any new allergies, the chances of getting adult-onset allergies diminishes.

The strangest part about adult-onset allergies is that you can wake up today irritated by an allergen that didn’t bother you yesterday. You could have been in contact with said allergen every single day for years with no adverse effects. Now, you have a runny nose, itching eyes and uncontrollable sneezing around that allergen.

See related: How to Keep Your Charlotte Seasonal Allergies in Check

What Causes Allergies Later in Life?

Why does this happen? It all has to do with our genetic makeup and environmental exposures.  If you’re predisposed to a certain type of allergy, but you’ve never been around that allergen before, it can seem like your symptoms have materialized out of nowhere. Say, for instance, you never had pets growing up. You’re allergic to pet dander, but you’d never know it. Then, your roommate decides to get a dog, and your allergies start going crazy.

So yes, even though it may seem like you just woke up with allergies one day, there’s usually a medical explanation for why it’s happened.

Which Allergies Are Most Common?

While we’ve talked about allergies to things like dander and pollen, these are not the most frequent adult-onset allergies.  Per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or ACAAI and data published in 2017 from their Annual Scientific Meeting, the most frequent adult-onset allergies are those to food. In fact, food comprised nearly 50 percent of these allergies!

Which foods triggered the most allergies? Peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts, says the ACAAI. The study discovered that Caucasian people were less likely to have peanut and shellfish allergies compared to Hispanic, Asian, and black people of adult age (18 years old or more).

While, back in 2008, the rate of tree nut allergies among adults was only 0.5 percent, it’s jumped by 260 percent. As of 2017, when the study was published, that rate was now 1.8 percent.

In addition, in 2004, only 2.5 percent of adults were allergic to shellfish. Today, that number has seen a 44-percent spike, as 3.6 percent are affected by this seafood allergy in the United States alone.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or AAAAI added that younger children aged one through three years old were also getting more food allergies. That said, they had fewer instances of shellfish allergies specifically.     

See related: New Recommendations for Exposing Children to Peanuts

Why does this happen? The verdict is still out. Medical and scientific researchers alike are still working on figuring out why adults have a higher likelihood of getting a shellfish allergy compared to children. One purported reason could be that the allergy is always present, just sitting dormant, like we mentioned above. Another is that since the average person doesn’t eat shellfish in childhood but may in adulthood, their eating habits could lead to allergies.

Can These Adult-Onset Allergies Be Prevented or Treated?

Unfortunately, you cannot prevent the manifestation of adult-onset allergies. As we mentioned, these allergies sometimes spring up where none existed before. Other times, exposure to the allergen triggers a reaction. For those reasons, it’s difficult to say with certainty which triggers you should avoid.

While you can’t always prevent adult-onset allergies, you can treat them as they develop. If, for instance, you notice you get an adverse reaction after eating shellfish or peanuts, you should refrain from eating these foods right away. Instead, set up an appointment with an allergy provider who can test your to see what is causing your symptoms

In the case of food allergies, the best treatment is avoidance. For pet dander, pollen, and other standard allergy triggers, you can try medications, including steroid nasal sprays and antihistamines, to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. You can also try to keep yourself away from these allergens via lifestyle adjustments. If your allergies persist, you can also look into allergy shots.

Contact the Specialists at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center for Help!

Allergies can detract from your life no matter your age. That’s why the Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center offers information and treatment for allergies for patients across Charlotte and beyond. We have 50+ years of care for symptoms related to asthma and allergies of all kinds.

Whether you want to get diagnosed for an allergy, learn more about your allergy and how you can stay healthy, or create a lifestyle plan that works for you, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center can help you achieve your health goals. Suddenly getting allergies can be scary, especially if you’ve never dealt with them before. You owe it to yourself to get high-quality care.

We have many locations, including University, Rock Hill, Monroe, Gastonia, Concord, Eastover, Waverly, SouthPark, Matthews. Mooresville, Huntersville, Cornelius, Hickory, Steele Creek, and Ballantyne as well as Charlotte. If you want more information or if you’re interested in setting up an appointment, contact us today.

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