Can Allergies Go Away or Develop as You Age?

Adult onset allergies & the immune system

Elderly man sneezing and suffering from allergies

Allergies aren’t just for kids. Some adults may actually experience a change in allergies as they age. From developing springtime allergies for the first time, to realizing that your family cat doesn’t cause you the misery it once did – allergies can shift and change at different phases of your life. 

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“Allergies are an inappropriate immune system response to something in the environment,” says allergist Alice Hoyt, MD. “It could be cat dander, pollen, dust mites or even peanuts. But it’s an inappropriate response because there’s no reason for your body to be intolerant to such allergens.”

An allergen, like pollen, is something that a person is allergic to. Tolerance and intolerance is how your body identifies with allergens. You can lose tolerance towards something and have allergy symptoms upon exposure to it, or you can develop tolerance and not have allergy symptoms upon exposure.

Welcome to the club

Allergies are one of the most common chronic disorders worldwide, and allergies can be developed in adulthood. Dr. Hoyt says that if you find yourself feeling run down, with a chronic cough or itchy eyes for no rhyme or reason, it might be time to question if it’s allergies – even if you’ve never had allergies before in your life.

It’s the classic case of the college student who goes away to school and comes home over break to find that she’s sneezing and her nose runs every time she’s near the family cat. The girl has likely lost her tolerance to cat dander when she was away and now she’s experiencing allergy symptoms.  

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The reverse could even happen if you’ve been introduced to a dog or cat, and a few months or years later the animal doesn’t bother you anymore because you’ve built up a tolerance to it.

Some research even suggests that having a dog reduces your risk of developing asthma and other future allergies later in life. Experts say that a dogs brings in more bacteria to your home, which actually helps to strengthen the immune system.

“Developing tolerance towards something is basically the same way allergy shots work – slowly introducing the allergen over the course of several months then continuing exposure for years,” says Dr. Hoyt. “You’re training your body to accept the allergen and to have a normal, appropriate reaction to it.”

Time changes everything

There are some people who have enjoyed the springtime for years, and then for some reason, one May day their nose suddenly starts running and they feel miserable.

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Over time, it’s possible to lose your tolerance towards pollen, food, medications, materials and insect venom, such as bee stings. The immune system is constantly changing.

So if you’ve found yourself feeling crummy and you can’t seem to pinpoint what’s triggering it – see an allergist. At the least, you can rule out adult onset allergies, and your doctor can work with you to start feeling more like yourself again.

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