What’s the Deal With Adult Onset Allergies?

One out of four adults with food allergy had their first reaction as an adult, recent studies show. Why do allergies suddenly show up in adults? It’s one mystery in allergy that still needs to be solved.

Dr. Mary Morris, Allergychoices Medical Advisor, partner at Allergy Associates of La Crosse and a lead author of the La Crosse Method™ Protocol sees patients who have developed allergies — both food and environmental — in adulthood in her practice. She says, “I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s something that can develop at any time.”

Developing Food Allergies as an Adult

The idea of developing food allergies as an adult is a fairly new concept. Dr. Morris says, “It was commonly thought in the past that if you didn’t get food allergies when you were a kid, you weren’t going to get them as an adult. Dr. Ruchi Gupta’s study found that one out of four adults with food allergy had their first reaction in adulthood. That was really different from what was previously thought.”

This study also showed that of those adults who had food allergies as a child, 48% developed at least one additional food allergy as an adult. Because this is a fairly new concept, researchers aren’t entirely sure why a food may not cause a reaction as a child, and then cause a reaction years later.

“We didn’t even know that that many adults were having adult onset food allergy. They weren’t seeking care for it; they would react to almonds and just not eat almonds,” Dr. Morris reiterates. “Fewer of the adults were seeking allergist evaluation, where with children, parents are more likely to go to an allergist to have testing done rather than to just have their child stay away from the problematic food.”

There’s hope that future research will help us understand this phenomenon. For now, it’s important to realize that you can develop a food allergy at any point in life, and that food allergies can be life threatening and shouldn’t be dismissed. Allergy testing and treatment can add a measure of safety — allergy drops are a safe treatment option, and they fit into busy lifestyles.

Developing Environmental Allergies as an Adults

As for environmental allergies, it’s always been known that they can hit at any age. Dr. Morris says, “Certainly in young children, airborne allergies are relatively common. But, again, the public thinks that if you didn’t have allergies when you’re little, their symptoms must not be an allergy. That isn’t always true.”

Climate change is contributing to longer and more severe pollen seasons. “Ragweed season has increased by ten days in ten years. It was stable for 40 years, and now it’s suddenly lengthened and the levels are certainly higher,” Dr. Morris explains. For those who have mild to moderate pollen allergies, they may not have started to feel symptoms until the seasons really ramped up over the past ten years. With the higher pollen concentrations, people may be experiencing seasonal allergies for the first time in adulthood.

Changes in your personal environment can also bring on allergies that you haven’t experienced previously. Dr. Morris often sees this in practice after a patient moves, “Certainly, if you move to a different part of the country you can develop allergies to things that are unique to that part of the world.” Being exposed to unique allergens can bring on unique reactions.

Adjusting your indoor environment can cause issues, too. Think pets. “A person may have had exposure to pets as a child and never had a problem, and then get an animal as an adult in an enclosed space,  with increased exposure, and develop an allergy,” Dr. Morris says. Pet allergy symptoms can be different from animal to animal, and pet to pet. One golden retriever as a kid may not have caused a reaction, but a different golden retriever in a different environment as an adult may bring on symptoms.

Allergies at any age are treatable and don’t have to be something you “just have to live with.” Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean it’s too late to treat the cause of you allergies.

By Taylor Pasell, Allergychoices