Can You Develop Allergies as an Adult?
It comes as a surprise to many people that you can develop allergies as an adult. It is often assumed that if you are going to be affected by an allergy, you will begin noticing the symptoms as a child. That assumption can lead adults to dismiss a runny nose, watery eyes and other symptoms as the result of a cold or flu when, in fact, they are caused by an allergy.
Causes of Adult-Onset Allergies
Experts aren’t sure why people can develop allergies at any age, but it is clear that they can. In fact, the prevalence of allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever,” is on the rise in the U.S., and new cases in adults are part of the reason. Some of the theories on why allergies are becoming more common include:
- More airborne allergens. It is believed that increasing concentrations of airborne allergens and a growing dust mite population are triggering allergies in people who had been able to tolerate lower levels of these irritants.
- The hygiene hypothesis. Some experts speculate that as our homes and workplaces become cleaner and have more air filtering, we are getting less exposure to allergens and that is suppressing the normal development of the immune system.
- Relocating as an adult. We’re a highly-mobile society. While we develop a tolerance for allergens in the region where we grow up, we can experience allergies when moving to live in a new area and are exposed to its allergens for the first time. The Ohio Valley – which includes most of Kentucky and Indiana – is notorious for its range of allergens that may well affect new residents.
- The allergy went undiagnosed. In some cases, a person may have had allergies all their life but only identifies them as such as an adult.
Whatever the cause, allergies are a major health challenge in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion.
Allergy Treatment is Available
Being diagnosed with allergies as an adult can be disheartening. However, knowing that what you are experiencing is an allergy rather than a cold or the flu means you can treat it properly. Allergy medication can minimize or prevent the symptoms. It is especially effective if it is begun just prior to the onset of allergy season.
People should also be aware that food allergies can occur for the first time in adulthood as well. If consuming a food you have enjoyed in the past is closely followed by digestive issues, hives or swollen airways, you may have developed an allergy to it.
Your doctor can recommend testing for respiratory or food allergies and help you get the treatment you need.