Can You Develop Allergies Later in Life? Sadly, Yes—Here’s How to Deal

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Happy spring to everyone and everything—except for seemingly brand-new allergies that joined your life, out of absolutely nowhere, even though you’re a fully grown adult who has never had them before. Yep, this can happen. Though surprise adult-onset allergies are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and just…rude, they’re a fact of life for some people, as you’re possibly learning firsthand.

According to the CDC, nearly a third of adults in the United States have an allergy, whether to food or their surroundings, and not all of those allergies show up during childhood. “Allergies can develop at any time due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors,” Payal Gupta, MD, a triple-board-certified allergy, asthma, and immunology specialist based in Brooklyn, tells SELF.

That doesn’t mean you should bubble-wrap yourself to protect against contact with potential allergens, even if you’re going through it right now. Solid treatments exist to help ensure that if adult-onset allergies do affect you, you can find ways to deal. Here’s what you should know about this fun new development—and how to effectively handle adult-onset allergies.

Food and environmental allergies are different in a few major ways.

An allergy is your immune system reacting—or, rather, overreacting—to something it considers to be a threat. While experts say any kind of allergy can develop at any age, understanding the difference between food and environmental allergies is a huge help when it comes to diagnosing and treating them.

One clear-cut difference between food and environmental allergies is the series of symptoms each present, Corinna Bowser, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist at Bryn Mawr Specialists Association in Havertown, Pennsylvania, tells SELF. “An environmental allergy usually presents with sneezing, itchy eyes, itchy nose, nasal congestion, coughing, mucus, or a skin rash,” she says. Examples of environmental allergens include pollen (which is what’s behind seasonal allergies), mold, pets, cockroaches, mice, and dust mites.

Environmental allergies might be a bit trickier to track if they’re seasonal (for instance, if they’re triggered by pollen in the spring). “In the first year of getting their symptoms, people might think, ‘Do I have COVID? Do I have the flu? Rhinitis? I don’t understand what’s going on,’” Timothy Craig, DO, an allergist, clinical researcher, and professor of medicine at Pennsylvania State University, tells SELF. “Usually, through a few seasons, people figure it out.”

If you’re reacting to something in your diet, your symptoms will probably clue you in. According to Dr. Craig, when you experience a food allergy, it often presents differently than an environmental one would. “You might get itching in the mouth, some GI upset, rash and itching, shortness of breath, or feeling that you’re going to pass out, a combination of those, and sometimes all of them, unfortunately,” he says.

Food allergies can be deadly if yours sends you into anaphylaxis, which affects an estimated 5% of the population. Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that can lead to respiratory collapse if untreated with epinephrine (like an injection with an EpiPen). Other than food, common allergen culprits that can lead to anaphylaxis are insect stings, latex, and medicines, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That’s all to say that it would be incredibly unlikely for an allergy to pollen or dust to send you into anaphylactic shock.

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