It is estimated that about 26% of adults, and 19% of children, have seasonal allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are a number of factors that can affect the immune system and cause the development of allergies, including puberty, pregnancy or significant illnesses. According to Dr. Corinne Keet, a professor of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the University of North Carolina, these factors “can change your allergic responses to things that you previously tolerated”. In a recent article in the New York Times, one survey of more than 40,000 adults in the United States (published in 2018), found that “about 45% of those who had food allergies developed at least one new food allergy in adulthood”. Of this group, 25% did not have allergies as a child. Cited in the same New York Times article, Dr. Jyothi Tirumalasetty, Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University, has seen patients of all ages develop new allergies, including allergies to pollen, animal dander and even tree nuts. Having been in clinical practice for over 35 years, we have definitely seen this happen on many occasions.
What Could Have Caused My Allergies to Develop? Although it would be difficult to identify the main cause for an adult to develop an allergy later in life, there may be predisposing factors, including family history, as adults who have a history of allergies in their family may develop an allergy as they get older. Another possible cause could be overuse of antibiotics during childhood (especially in infants), as well as a move to a new locale, where the allergy profile can be very different.
In some older adults, allergies can actually worsen, as the immune system starts to change, leading to increased reactions to pollen or dust. As we get older, our bodies tend to produce fewer natural protective cells, such as T-cells and B-cells, which play a role in protecting us against allergens. Lastly, adults with chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, can increase their risk of developing allergies or aggravate their existing allergies.
What Can I Do To Prevent My Allergies From Getting Worse?
- First and foremost, meet with an allergist, who can help you go over your medical history, taking into consideration lifestyle changes which may have contributed to the onset of your allergies.
- Get allergy tested. Knowing what you are allergic to can help you to reduce your exposure to specific allergens. Having updated allergy skin testing can also help to guide you on when allergy medications should be started/restarted or can be safely discontinued.
- Make sure that you reduce your exposure to allergens in the home, especially in the bedroom, where we spend 1/3 of our lives. By having your bedroom “allergy-proofed”, it is likely that you will sleep better at night and have “more capacity” to take on allergens which we have less control of, such as pollen.
Allergies can affect people of all ages, but they can be managed with proper diagnosis and treatment. If you think you or anyone you know has developed adult-onset allergies, or if your allergies seem to be getting worse, please call our office so we can help you reduce the impact of allergies in your life.