Although we often think of allergies as starting in childhood, the reality is that many adults find themselves suddenly dealing with allergies for the first time later in life. Recent studies have found that almost 50% of adults with food allergies developed at least one of their allergies in adulthood.
So if you’ve never had a problem with pollen or other allergens before, it’s possible to acquire adult-onset allergies. Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes an immune system to suddenly react to an allergen, but causes may include the following:
- Family history of allergies: Allergies seem to have a genetic component, which may only develop at certain ages or due to certain types of exposure. You may be at a higher risk of developing an allergy as an adult if your first-degree family members have allergies as well.
- Not enough exposure in childhood: Your immune system needs to be exposed to certain germs in order to develop defenses against them. If you weren’t exposed to many germs in childhood due to overuse of cleaning chemicals or antibacterial products in your home, you may not have had enough exposure to trigger an allergic reaction.
- Overuse of antibiotics during childhood: Some studies suggest this could make you more likely to develop allergies as an adult.
- Change in environment: Moving to a new geographical area with different plants, pollutants, or weather can cause you to be exposed to allergens that you weren’t exposed to before.
- Infections or stressful events: You may experience adult-onset allergies after your body has been through physical or emotional stress, such as after:
Unfortunately, the reason for these immune system triggers is unknown, but it is not uncommon. Although some people remain undiagnosed for decades (perhaps with milder, less frustrating symptoms that suddenly escalate), many develop full-blown allergies as adults.
What are symptoms of adult-onset allergies?
When it comes to allergies, symptoms tend to get worse over time, and some may even be life-threatening. A few common signs and symptoms you need to watch out for include:
- Runny nose or nasal congestion: May be triggered by an airborne allergen such as pollen, dust, or pet dander
- Itchy, swollen eyes: May be caused by allergens entering the eyes, such as pollen or ingredients in a new eye cream
- Red and white, raised rash: Also called urticaria, looks like nettle rash and disappears after 20 minutes, and almost always a sign that you have had an allergic reaction to something you have eaten
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, and face: Rarest but most dangerous kind of allergic reaction that can come on very quickly
What are treatment options for sudden adult-onset allergies?
On the bright side, allergic symptoms are rarely dangerous. There are several treatments that can help, and many of them are available over-the-counter.
Your doctor may want to do an allergy skin test before confirming a diagnosis. Depending on your diagnosis and severity of symptoms, treatment options may include:
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
De Martinis M, Sirufo MM, Ginaldi L. Allergy and Aging: An Old/New Emerging Health Issue. Aging Dis. 2017;8(2):162-175. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5362176/
Top What Causes Sudden Allergies in Adults Related Articles
Know Your Allergy TriggersAllergies are an overreaction of the immune system where the body's defenses react to substances such as pollen, food and more. Learn about common allergy triggers and how you can avoid an allergy attack.
Allergies QuizWhat are the causes of allergies? This online quiz challenges your knowledge of common food and household allergens, environmental triggers, allergic diseases and conditions, and allergy symptoms and treatments.
Allergy (Allergies)An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Plant and Tree AllergiesFind out more about which plants and trees might be producing pollen that is causing your itchy eyes and a runny nose.
Allergy ShotsAllergy shots are given to increase your tolerance to allergens that cause allergy symptoms. At the beginning, allergy shots will be administered once or twice a week for several months. The dose is increased each time until a maintenance dose is reached. Side effects of allergy shots include itchy eyes, shortness of breath, runny nose, tight throat, redness, swelling, and irritation.
Food Allergies SlidesWhat common food allergens cause the most problems for adults and children? See this list of common food allergies and learn to avoid allergens with these tips.
How Do You Know if You Are Allergic to Pollen?Pollen is a powdery yellow grain that fertilizes other plants of the same species. The only way to know for sure if a person has pollen allergy is to see a board-certified allergist for allergy testing.
How Do I Know if I Am Lactose Intolerant or Allergic to Milk?Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of an enzyme (lactase) that helps digest the sugar (lactose) in milk. Milk allergy, on the other hand, is an adverse immune reaction to proteins found in milk. The symptoms of the two conditions are different.
Nasal Allergy ReliefLearn how a combination of medication, preventing allergens, and allergy relief products can reduce allergy symptoms and help you feel better.
Photoallergic Reaction PictureAn allergic reaction caused by drugs in which ultraviolet exposure changes the structure of the drug so that it is seen by the body's immune system as an invader. See a picture of Photoallergic Reaction and learn more about the health topic.
How to Differentiate Between the Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19, Allergies, Cold, and Flu?Coronavirus disease or COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Most people with COVID-19 will experience a mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without the need for intensive or special treatment. Serious illness is more likely in elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer.
Skin Test for AllergyAn allergy skin test helps identify triggers for one's allergic reactions. Small amounts of allergy-provoking substances (allergens) are scratched into the skin. Redness and swelling develop if one is allergic to the substance. A positive allergy skin test implies that the person has an IgE antibody response to that substance. The test is rapid, simple, and relatively safe.
Is Food Intolerance the Same as Food Allergy?Food intolerance is a condition in which an individual has difficulty in digesting certain foods. Consumption of these foods manifests as physical symptoms such as bloating, loose motion, gases, and bellyache. Food intolerance is quite common. Most people are aware of the foods that disagree with them.
What Are the Four Types of Allergic Reactions?Allergists recognize four types of allergic reactions: Type I or anaphylactic reactions, type II or cytotoxic reactions, type III or immunocomplex reactions and type IV or cell-mediated reactions.
What Are Typical Allergy Symptoms?Allergy symptoms differ depending on the type of allergy and body part involved. For example, food allergies may cause different symptoms than nasal allergies or eye allergies. The severity of symptoms may also vary, ranging from mild irritation to a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
What Causes Nose Allergies?Nose allergies can be caused by irritants such as pollen, animal dander, and household dust. Learn about symptoms, treatment, and prevention.