Can Adults Get Allergies? Our Primary Care Physicians Answer

An allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly thinks that an everyday substance such as dust, pollen, or food is harmful. Your body tries to block ‘the invader’ by releasing chemicals called histamines. The histamines cause symptoms which affect your nose, eyes, sinuses, airways, skin, and digestive system. If severe, allergies can make you miserable; they’re the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

Can you develop allergies as an adult? Absolutely. Doctors see many adults from their 30s through their 60s who have developed allergies for the first time. Over 50 million Americans have some type of allergy. But expert treatment is available to relieve many of your symptoms.

What are the most common allergies?

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is the most common type of allergy. It affects 8% of adults in the U.S. and between 10-30% of adults worldwide. Symptoms include frequent and uncontrolled sneezing, runny or stopped up nose, blocked sinuses, and itching in your eyes, nose, or the roof of your mouth.

You may also develop a tickle in your throat and have tears running down your face from your allergy when it’s not under control. These symptoms can develop into other more serious conditions such as chronic bronchitis if left untreated.

There are two subcategories of allergic rhinitis: seasonal and perennial. Either type can begin during adulthood.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, often has a genetic component; if your mother had hay fever, you’re more likely to get it. You get symptoms when certain trees, pollens, grasses, or mold spores are in the air. If you’re allergic to ragweed, your symptoms peak in the late summer and early fall. If you’re allergic to certain trees, you may get sick every year in March when the trees begin to bud.

If you have allergy symptoms all year long, you likely have perennial allergic rhinitis. You could be allergic to dust mites in your house or to mold spores.

Pet Allergies

You’re at a friend’s house and your six-year-old is petting the cat. He’s sneezing, and then all of a sudden his face is covered with red welts. On the way to the emergency room, you figure out your son is allergic to cats, which the doctor there confirms.

About 10-15% of Americans are allergic to pets, and the allergy is usually discovered in childhood. Twice as many people are allergic to cats as to dogs. Proteins in cat saliva, urine, and dander (dried skin cells) can all produce allergens. Many people are also allergic to dog dander. As an adult, you realize the best ‘treatment’ is avoidance.

Food Allergies

Food allergies affect about 4% of adults and 4-6% of children. As an adult, you can develop an allergy to a food or foods that you’ve eaten your whole life. If you develop a food allergy, you’re likely going to experience symptoms within a few minutes to within the first two hours after eating.

It’s important to seek medical treatment if you have food or other allergies. If you have a mild reaction the first time, it doesn’t guarantee a mild reaction in the future. Severe reactions cause anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening: your airways narrow and you can’t breathe.

If you develop a food allergy, you should avoid that food in any form. Learn to check the ingredients on products. Packaged foods now state whether they contain any of the eight most common foods that produce allergic reactions: milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish.

Insect Stings/Cockroach Allergies

Approximately 3% of adults have life-threatening reactions to insect stings, including wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, fire ants, and honeybees.

Cockroach allergies can trigger perennial allergies and asthma, including asthma attacks. A surprising number of homes in America carry cockroach allergens. If you suspect a problem, call an exterminator.

What is the most effective treatment for allergies?

Doctors First conducts skin and blood allergy tests, which are the gold standard to determine whether you are allergic to specific foods, plants, trees, and other substances. You may be given a prescription for an EpiPen if you’re in danger of a severe allergic reaction.

Doctors First physicians may prescribe pills to see if your symptoms abate with oral medication. Our physicians also provide immunotherapy (allergy shots) that help desensitize you to specific allergens and help manage your symptoms. After immunotherapy treatment, in some cases, you may no longer experience symptoms of your allergy.

If your allergies are interfering with your ability to enjoy life, don’t wait another day; call Doctors First for treatment that gets your allergies under control.

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