The Changing Nature of Airborne and Food Allergies
You sniffled through grade school, breathed easier in college and now your allergies are back with a vengeance. Or, perhaps a food you usually enjoy suddenly triggers a rash, or more alarmingly, causes your throat to swell. What’s going on, and what can you do about it? It’s the wily nature of allergies: they change over time and can crop up out of the blue. They’re also quite common. Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.,1 and reactions to airborne irritants are more frequent than food allergies. Don’t let allergies get the best of you. Get ahead of them with answers to these common questions.
How Do Dander and Dust Suddenly Cause an Allergic Reaction?
The answer is in your immune system, which is designed to attack foreign substances.
An allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance and sends out defensive molecules called immunoglobulin E antibodies. It’s these antibodies which ultimately cause those irritating reactions in the nose, lungs, throat or skin.
Are Allergies Something You’re Born With?
Technically, no. You aren’t born with an allergies, but rather a trait passed on by a parent called atopy, which is a genetic tendency to develop allergies.
Infants and toddlers usually have skin-related allergy symptoms such as a rash first. About 60% of kids will outgrow the condition, but they have a high chance of developing respiratory symptoms and even asthma later. Research has found that 20% of kids who react to nuts will overcome it with time.2
Can New Allergies Occur Later in Life?
Yes. Older people are often surprised to end up in their doctor’s office complaining about a runny nose or an allergic reaction they’ve never had before.
It’s a trend on the rise. As the population gets older worldwide, allergy manifestation in aged persons will occur more often.
Changes of immune function and tissue structure which naturally happen as you age are partially to blame. In addition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies occurring with age play a part. Vitamin D, zinc and iron have important immune system regulatory roles – so when you’re deficient, your immune system is affected.
Can Moving Affect Allergy Symptoms?
Yes, pollen that has made you sneeze and wheeze your whole life – southern grasses, trees in the Midwest – may not grow near your new city. Moving away from the family dog to a pet-free apartment can also cause your symptoms to wane, and of course you can also move somewhere which will make you feel worse.
What Are Some Allergy Triggers?
One is stress. When you’re under pressure and feeling the strain, your body can prompt the release of histamine, which triggers allergy symptoms. Also, extra pounds can weigh heavily on your airways and obesity can increase inflammation in your entire body, which can worsen symptoms of hay fever and similar conditions.
What Should I Do if I Experience New Allergy Symptoms?
Call your provider. To diagnose a new allergy, physicians begin by taking a detailed history. We’ll ask if you’ve tried a new food or started a medication, and we’ll ask what’s new in your life. We’ll also check whether interactions among medications you’re taking may be causing a reaction. Sometimes polypharmacy – or taking multiple medications which interact – can be to blame.
Identifying the culprit is the first step.
Allergy Treatments May Include:
- Avoiding what triggers the allergy.
- Kids can get immunotherapy — shots or lozenges that expose them to increasing doses of allergens until their bodies stop freaking out over them.
- Taking vitamin D, zinc or iron supplements to correct a deficiency.
- Using a intranasal steroid spray for nasal congestion.
- Applying a mild topical steroid for itchy skin, sometimes oral steroids if a skin allergy is severe.
- For severe allergies, you may receive a prescription for an EpiPen. This injected mediation contains epinephrine, a chemical which helps open airways during an allergic reaction.
Developing hay fever or a nut allergy can be a surprise later in life, and the effects can range from merely irritating to life-threatening. Working with your health care provider can provide some much needed relief.
Find your perfectly matched primary care provider to talk more about allergy relief.
Dalia Lawandy, MBBS is a family medicine provider with CHI Health. The focus of her practice is to educate her patients about preventive care and living a healthy life style and to make them the owner of their medical decisions.