It's easy to assume that if you didn't have seasonal allergies as a child or teen, you won't have them as an adult. But adult-onset allergies are a thing, allergist and immunologist Dr. Tania Elliott, tells Yahoo Life.
"One of the biggest misconceptions is that if you didn’t have [allergies] as a child or young adult, you’re home free," she says. "Well, not really."
There are common "peaks" allergists see when people are typically diagnosed with seasonal allergies, Elliott says: in younger school-aged kids, in adolescents and those in their early 20s, and then again as adults until about age 45. "After that, the risk of developing new onset allergies is a lot smaller," Elliott says.
Allergies in adults can share the same symptoms as allergies in their younger counterparts. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), those can include:
Itchy eyes, mouth or skin
Stuffy nose due to blockage or congestion
But adults can also have additional symptoms, Elliott says, including difficulty sleeping and a loss of day-to-day productivity.
Leaving your allergies untreated will only continue your discomfort, Elliott points out. That's why it's so important to see an allergist.
What to expect when you see an allergist
There are a few things you can expect when you visit an allergist. "They should take a comprehensive history," Elliott says. That includes asking about your symptoms, when they tend to occur and whether you're having them alongside other health issues, such as trouble breathing and a fast heart rate.
Your allergist will also likely want to have you undergo allergy testing. During testing, the allergist will place small amounts of an allergen — a substance your doctor suspects you might be allergic to — on your skin. "You wait about 15 minutes and you see whether a rash develops," Elliott explains. If you develop a red rash or welt, it's likely that you're allergic to the allergen that was placed on that area of your skin, she says.
How to treat adult-onset allergies
You have a few potential options for treatment, per Elliott:
Avoidance. This means you do your best to try to avoid the substance you're allergic to.
Take antihistamines. Antihistamines are medications that try to stop or tamp down on the release of histamine in your body, a substance that causes allergy symptoms.
Try steroid nasal sprays. These medications reduce swelling in your sinuses.
Consider allergen immunotherapy. This, Elliott says, "is a great approach for somebody who is committed and interested in being cured of what it is that they’re allergic to." During allergen immunotherapy, you're given small injections of what you're allergic to and then are monitored by your doctor after for 30 minutes. Your doctor will build up the amount over time "to train your immune system to no longer be allergic to something," Elliott explains. It's important to point out, however, that this treatment is not for food allergies.
If you have allergies, Elliott says it's important to get them treated and not just because it will help you feel better — leaving your allergies untreated can raise your risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a serious lung and heart condition that can be life-threatening.
"If you can’t shake that rundown feeling, don’t just chalk it up to aging," Elliott says. "Go see a board-certified allergist to identify if allergies could be the underlying cause of your symptoms."
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