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When you were young, maybe you could eat nuts without any physical reaction. Maybe you had a cat that slept on your bed every night, or you loved late-summer walks.
Now, as an adult, these things aren’t as pleasant. You find you can’t stop sneezing or rubbing your eyes around cats, or seasonal allergies have put a damper on your outdoor enjoyment.
Adult-onset allergies can happen, and they often take people by surprise.
Why do adult-onset allergies occur?
One reason: Our immune system changes as we age. Over the years, it is possible to develop an allergy to chemicals (such as in makeup or cologne) or environmental allergens over the years. Perhaps you weren’t exposed to a particular allergen as a child, but moved to an area where you are now exposed to it.
Researchers suspect adults who develop food allergies may lose their tolerance to the food (shellfish, tree nuts, etc.) as they age. This could happen because of a cross-reaction with another allergen, such as airborne pollen.
Genes may also play a part in adult-onset allergies. If your family members have a history of an allergy, that susceptibility could combine with your personal environmental or chemical exposures to trigger an allergy in adulthood.
With a food allergy, it’s often obvious what is causing the reaction. You typically will feel symptoms of an allergic reaction within minutes, if not seconds, of eating the food in question.
Sometimes an extreme allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, can occur with an allergy. If you experience symptoms such as a rash or hives, swelling of the throat, wheezing, vomiting, stomach cramps or tightness in your chest after eating a certain food or being stung by an insect, get to an emergency room as soon as possible.
How allergies are diagnosed
Doctors can pinpoint what you’re allergic to with a skin test. During a skin test, a small amount of the allergen is scratched or pricked into your skin or injected below the skin surface. The reaction you have will determine whether you’re diagnosed with an allergy.
The best treatment for allergies: avoiding the substance that causes it! Of course, some allergies, such as seasonal allergies, are unavoidable. But, you don’t have to suffer. Visit your primary care physician or an allergist to determine the best course of action.
There are medications — oral, nose sprays, eye drops and injections — that can ease allergy symptoms.
Dr. Amish Doshi is an internal medicine physician with Edward Medical Group and is accepting new patients in Naperville. View his profile and schedule an appointment online.
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