Allergy basics

Can an Adult Develop Allergies Later in Life?
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Can an Adult Develop Allergies Later in Life?

2011-07-11

By Dr. Devi Banerjee

The short answer to this question is yes. Though allergies most often begin in childhood, they can develop at any time in an individual’s life. Adults perceiving “new” allergies may have had childhood allergic reactions that they do not remember, while others may have allergies that are truly “new” (i.e., occurring where there is no prior allergic history). Allergies affecting adults can be to environmental substances such as pollens, animals, and moulds, to foods, and to any number of materials such as latex or substances found in work environments.

Genetics predispose an estimated one third of the population to allergies. However, not all of these at-risk individuals see allergies develop. Exactly what influences some people to develop allergies is unknown. In some instances, allergies can arise in adults after significant hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, menopause or prolonged hormonal supplementation. Yet this does not happen to all women who experience such changes. Other factors, such as air pollutants which affect the allergenicity of certain substances, have been suggested as causes of adult allergies. Even climate change has been blamed, due to its effect on the growing seasons of plants, which boosts pollen levels and lengthens allergy seasons. It is possible that adults who have a genetic predisposition to allergies might be set off by such conditions.

Another hypothesis is that stress may alter the immune system in ways that cause allergic responses. Stress can, for example, modify the bacterial populations in one’s gastrointestinal tract, which changes how one’s body responds to foods.

Related to adult-onset allergies is adult-onset asthma, whose development can be part of the same process. Respiratory allergies place adults at a greater risk of developing asthma.

Not much is known about the rise of allergies later in life, but we do know they can appear. All throughout life, one’s immune system undergoes changes. The complex mechanisms that cause allergies in adults are not yet well understood, and may be mediated or triggered by a variety of different factors.

The views expressed are solely those of the author based on his/her knowledge and expertise and do not necessarily represent the views of the manufacturer.

If you think you are experiencing allergy symptoms, please consult your healthcare professional for a definitive diagnosis.

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