Count yourself lucky if you escaped allergies as a child but it doesn’t mean that you are home free. Food and/or environmental allergies may unexpectedly appear in adults in their twenties on up.
Allergies develop when your immune system begins to attack normally harmless substances, such as food, pollen, animal dander, dust mites or mold. These allergens may produce symptoms in the nasal passages, eyes, sinuses, airways, skin and digestive tract.
If you develop allergies, you will not be alone. About 54 percent of Americans are sensitive to one or more allergens, according to the National Institutes of Health. Depending on what allergen you’re talking about, the rates are anywhere from two to five times higher than 30 years ago.
Unfortunately, adult-onset allergies tend to be yours forever unlike childhood allergies that may disappear overtime. Fish and shellfish allergies are more likely than others to begin in adulthood although many develop allergic rhinitis or hayfever.
Why adults may develop allergies
There are many explanations or theories for why individuals develop allergies as adults. One theory is that developed countries are too clean. Our immune systems are malfunctioning because of lack of stimulation from bacteria and germs. The number of autoimmune disorders is disproportionately higher in sterile countries.
Longer growing seasons, brought about by global warming, may be fueling an increase in environmental allergies. Researchers have found that plants are flowering earlier and producing more pollen.
Another contributor to adult-onset allergies may be air pollution. Chemicals and other pollutants in the air may be making allergies worse.
Individuals become more vulnerable to allergies as they age because their immune systems weaken. Exposure to allergens when the immune system is weakened as during an illness or pregnancy also may open individuals to developing allergies.
Learning to manage allergies
At this point, there is not one clear answer for why you may develop allergies but there are some strategies for coping.
•Limit your exposure by keeping your windows shut in both your house and car. Avoid prolonged exposure outside between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. when allergen levels are at their highest. Shower and change after being outside to remove allergens that tend to stick to hair and clothes. Monitor pollen levels for your area through the National Allergy Bureau.
•Start taking your medication 10-14 days before symptoms appear. Nasal steroids, antihistamines, decongestants and eye drops are available over-the-counter and by prescription.
•Schedule a doctor’s appointment if medications and sprays aren’t working. Allergy shots that reduce your sensitivity are another option.
•Use a Neti Pot regularly to clean the sinuses and clear the head of congestion. A Neti Pot is a small ceramic pot used to pour warm saline solution through the sinus passages.
•If you develop a food allergy, become an avid label reader. Food manufacturers must disclose potential allergens but check and recheck ingredients often. Sometimes, manufacturers change ingredients and add in an allergen you must avoid.