Why Did I Develop Allergies as an Adult?

Imagine the nostalgia of taking a bite of your favorite childhood snack, the very one your mother lovingly packed in your school lunchbox every single day. You eagerly anticipate the familiar crunchiness, but instead, your mouth betrays you with an irritating itch, and your throat feels uncomfortably scratchy. It’s a disheartening moment, realizing that you’ve developed oral allergies, a phenomenon that haunts adults more frequently, especially those with a history of seasonal allergies.

Allergies, my friend, are the handiwork of our body’s immune system, a complex dance of defense mechanisms. They stand apart from food intolerance or sensitivity, which arise when our bodies struggle to digest certain foods or food chemicals. In the intricate realm of allergies, our immune system kicks into action, producing a special warrior called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, to combat the allergy symptoms. IgE is a messenger, a chemical emissary that travels to our cells, urgently conveying the message that we need a chemical defense against these foreign invaders. It’s a fascinating process, really. Allergic individuals tend to have elevated IgE levels in response to seemingly harmless environmental exposures, like innocent pollen particles drifting on the breeze.

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Now, let’s embark on a journey to understand how allergies come to life within us, mere mortals. Allergies can sprout forth at any stage of our existence. One factor that magnifies the likelihood of their emergence is the specter of family history. If even one parent carries the burden of allergies, their offspring face a 30-50% chance of walking the same thorny path. But wait, the stakes rise to a staggering 60-80% if both parents bear this burden.

Allergies can also develop later in life due to exposure to new allergens in the environment and changes in the immune system. This can happen anywhere from early adulthood, such as a person’s 20s, to their senior years, when they are in their 70s or 80s. The most common food allergies in adults include peanuts, fish, shellfish (e.g., shrimp and lobster), and tree nuts. Recently, sesame seeds have also emerged as a new allergen in some cases.

The most peculiar aspect of adult-onset allergies is that you can suddenly become irritated by an allergen that didn’t bother you yesterday. You may have been in contact with that allergen every day for years without experiencing any adverse effects. But now, you find yourself with a runny nose, itchy eyes, and uncontrollable sneezing whenever exposed to that allergen.

Some potential triggers for adult-onset allergies include:

1. Allergen exposure when your immune system is weakened, such as during illness, pregnancy, or a condition that compromises your immune function.

2. Limited exposure to an allergen during childhood. You may not have been exposed to high enough levels to trigger a reaction until adulthood.

3. Switching to a new home or workplace with different allergens. This could involve exposure to new plants and trees.

4. Owning a pet for the first time. Research suggests that allergies can develop after an extended period of not having any pets.

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The good news is that allergies can diminish over time. Even if you develop allergies as an adult, you may find that they start to fade away as you reach your 50s and beyond. This is because immune function tends to decline with age, resulting in less severe immune responses to allergens.

Sources: 1 & 2