Allergy

Updated 05 June 2017

Can adults develop allergies?

We associate allergies with childhood, but what is the likelihood of these unwelcome reactions showing up later in life?

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Most people associate allergies with growing up, and according to Food Standards Agency it is estimated that in the UK 5 to 8% of children, as opposed to only 1 to 2% of adults, have a food allergy. 

Fact is that allergies can happen to anyone at any time, and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that food allergies, although most common in children, can appear at any age. 

An allergy is an abnormal sensitivity or reaction of your immune system to a substance (allergen) that you:

  • eat (e.g. shellfish),
  • inhale (e.g. pollen), or  
  • touch (e.g. latex).

The only way to cure an allergy is to outgrow it – and until such time your only option is to avoid any contact with the cause.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show that younger children are more likely to have skin allergies while older children are more likely to suffer from respiratory allergies.

What about babies?

A Parents article points out that until recently it was believed that babies under two years couldn’t develop allergies because their immune systems were not sufficiently developed.

A baby can however have an allergic reaction to anything they’re constantly exposed to (e.g. dust, mould, pet dander and some foods). Seasonal allergies, on the other hand, tend to manifest later as a baby’s immune system needs at least one season to “learn” to be allergic to things like pollen or grass.

Allergies can strike at any age

Allergies can creep up on you at any age. You can even suddenly develop an allergy to foods you've been eating for many years.

The same applies to seasonal allergies like hay fever, and as LiveScience reminds us, our bodies come in contact with new things all the time, and can become highly allergic to these at any time.

In South Africa the change of seasons can be particularly trying, and up to 20% of South Africans suffer from allergic reactions, according to the Allergy Society of South Africa. This includes sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes.

Research by Northwestern University indicates that the older a patient is when diagnosed with food allergies, the more likely they are to have a severe reaction.

You don’t have to be stuck with allergies

Allergies are unpredictable! Severe childhood allergies can mysteriously disappear, and adults who had an allergy-free childhood can suddenly become allergic to a variety of substances. Doctors and allergists know this, but don’t know why we can grow into and out of allergies. 

According to New York-based allergist Clifford W. Bassett, children can generally grow out of allergies. For many people, however, it is not the case – and some individuals, sometimes in their eighties, are affected for the first time with a variety of allergies.

Read more:

Preventing allergies

Severe allergies register launched

Broccoli may ease allergies

 

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies. obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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