Nearly one-third of adults in the United States suffer from allergies, and although many people begin experiencing symptoms in childhood, some types of allergies are more likely to start later in life. Read on to learn what allergies are, which ones to be on the lookout for and what you can do about them.
An allergy is an immune system reaction triggered by proteins and protein-like substances called allergens. An allergen itself isn’t harmful to the general population. However, if you have an allergy to it, your body mistakes the allergen for a threat like bacteria or viruses.
To protect you from the perceived threat, your immune system releases chemicals, including histamine. Histamine is what causes allergy symptoms like itchy and watery eyes, hives, sneezing and nasal congestion. It can also cause a more severe and potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include shortness of breath, swelling, difficulty swallowing, wheezing and digestive problems like vomiting and diarrhea.
Any allergy can start at any age, and you may not have a reaction the first time you come into contact with an allergen. In some cases, symptoms don’t begin until you’ve been exposed to an allergen several times. After you’ve had your first allergic reaction to something, repeated exposure to the allergen may cause more severe symptoms.
As previously mentioned, certain allergies are more likely to begin later in life, including all of the following.
Seasonal allergies are allergies that usually begin in late winter and last through early summer. The timing corresponds to when trees, grasses and weeds undergo pollination, leading to the presence of pollen particles in the air.
Also called hay fever, seasonal allergies cause symptoms that predominantly affect the eyes and nose. Often, people who develop seasonal allergies in adulthood do so after moving from one geographic area to another. In this case, it’s thought that exposure to new forms of pollen may trigger symptoms. It’s also possible to develop seasonal allergies in adulthood even if you remain in the same location, but researchers have yet to uncover why this occurs.
Also called pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS), oral allergy syndrome is an allergy that occurs after eating certain raw fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. It occurs most often in people who already have seasonal allergies and happens when the body mistakes proteins that are similar to pollen as threats. Unlike other food allergies, PFAS rarely causes anaphylaxis. Instead, you’re more likely to experience:
Food allergies sometimes begin during adulthood. In fact, one study found that 48% of adults with food allergies developed them after the age of 18. Some of the most common food allergies include shellfish, peanuts, milk, tree nuts and fin fish, and it’s possible to become allergic to more than one type of food.
People aged 65 and older typically take more medications than younger individuals. As a result, seniors may be more likely to develop drug allergies. While any drug can trigger a reaction, some medications are more common culprits. These include anti-seizure medications, insulin, penicillin and sulfa drugs.
Mild drug allergies can cause hives and rashes, itching of the skin or eyes, wheezing and swelling of the lips, face and/or tongue. More severe reactions can trigger anaphylaxis and require emergency medical treatment.
If you believe you have a new allergy, it’s best to talk to your health care provider. They can refer you to an allergist, a specialist who focuses on caring for people with allergies. An allergist will typically order tests to determine what you’re allergic to. Common allergy tests include blood tests and skin prick tests. If you’re a resident of Cambridge Court senior living community in Kearney, NE, you can arrange for free transportation to and from your appointment as a part of our standard services and amenities.
Treatments for allergies depend on the type. Let’s look at each of the above-listed allergies one by one.
If you have PFAS or traditional food allergies, you’ll need to take steps to avoid the foods that trigger your symptoms. Check ingredient listings carefully, and look at packaging to find out if whatever you’re about to eat was produced in a facility where allergens may be present. When dining out, let your server know about allergies as well. For traditional food allergies, your health care provider may recommend that you carry an epinephrine pen to use if you experience anaphylaxis.
The most common treatment for seasonal allergies is antihistamine medications, which interfere with the activities of histamine. These drugs are available in both over-the-counter and prescription form, and your health care provider can recommend the right one for your needs. In addition, keep an eye on pollen count reports and avoid going outside when levels are high.
Typically, the solution for drug allergies is switching medications. If you know you have a drug allergy, let any new health care providers you see know. You may also want to wear a bracelet that identifies your allergy in case you ever need emergency medical care.