While many people discover their allergies as children, adults are not immune from developing them.
The immune system you’re born with can change over time, so while children can grow out of allergies, adults may experience first-time allergies.
“Believe it or not, yes! It is possible for adults to develop seasonal allergies when they never had allergies as a child or adolescent,” said Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a board-certified family medicine physician and associate professor in the department of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey. “Many symptoms of seasonal allergies are similar for adults and kids. Common symptoms include runny and itchy nose, sneezing, stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes and cough, as well as other symptoms.”
For some people, allergies may exacerbate asthma symptoms, she said.
Seasonal allergies are most commonly caused by pollen and can occur at different times of the year, said Caudle, who just began experiencing seasonal allergies in the past few years.
Allergies can also be perennial, which means they can happen year-round. Perennial allergies are usually the result of exposure to indoor allergens in homes and workspaces. Common indoor triggers include dried skin flakes, urine and saliva found on pet dander, mold, droppings from dust mites and cockroach particles, Caudle said.
Something that may surprise people is that food allergies often develop in adulthood. More than 10% of adults in the United States, over 26 million, are estimated to have a food allergy, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open. And nearly half of food-allergic adults developed at least one of their food allergies as an adult, with the most common being shellfish, milk, peanut, fin fish, egg and wheat.
“Treating allergies in both kids and adults is very important; however, in kids untreated allergies can cause other health issues,” Caudle said.
If a child’s nose is congested to the point that he or she breathes through the mouth, especially while sleeping, this can disrupt sleep, causing the child to be tired during the day.
“If mouth-breathing persists it can actually affect the growth of teeth and facial bones,” Caudle said.
Allergies can also lead to inflammation in the ear and cause fluid to build up, which can be a risk factor for ear infections and decreased hearing.
“This is very important for a developing child because a child with poor hearing may not develop proper speech,” she said.
The good news is that allergies are often simple to diagnose with a thorough history and physical exam from your doctor, Caudle said. They are also diagnosed by skin and blood tests.