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Why do adults suddenly get.. ALLERGIES? Dear Miriam.

Byline: MIRIAM STOPPARD

As summer gets into full swing, many of us will come down with unexplained sniffles snif·fle  
intr.v. snif·fled, snif·fling, snif·fles
1. To breathe audibly through a runny or congested nose.

2. To weep or whimper lightly with spasmodic congestion of the nose.

n.
1.
 or a nasty rash - and be shocked when the doctor says it's hay fever hay fever, seasonal allergy causing inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose and eyes. It is characterized by itching about the eyes and nose, sneezing, a profuse watery nasal discharge, and tearing of the eyes.  or a food allergy food allergy Allergy medicine A condition, the incidence of which–0.3-7.5%–is obscured by controversial data and differing disease definitions; food-induced reactions of immediate-hypersensitivity type are common and include anaphylaxis, angioedema, .

It amazes me that adults are so surprised to discover they've developed an allergy to something. I suppose it's because we tend to associate them with childhood but sudden adult allergies are not unusual - and some scientists think they may be on the rise.

Allergies can develop at any time in your life and can be a reaction to anything.

I used to run an allergy clinic that only treated adults, including people who'd developed allergies to pets, water - even exercise, in one case.

Why adults ignore allergies

A relative of mine developed hay fever at the age of 70 a few years ago. He, like many people, mistook the runny nose and itchy eyes for a "summer cold".

The symptoms lasted for a couple of weeks, then disappeared and he forgot all about it. It was only the following summer - when the same symptoms returned but lasted longer - that we finally realised it was hay fever, even though he'd never had it before.

But, while delaying a diagnosis of hay fever might not be the end of the world, ignoring symptoms of a more serious allergy could be dangerous, which is why adults must be vigilant.

What to watch out for When it comes to allergies, symptoms tend to get worse each time - an escalation known as the "allergic march" - so it's important to see your GP if you suffer any of the following... Runny nose or nasal congestion: This can be triggered by an airborne allergen allergen /al·ler·gen/ (al´er-jen) an antigenic substance capable of producing immediate hypersensitivity (allergy).allergen´ic

pollen allergen
 such as pollen, dust or pet dander.

Itchy, swollen eyes: This can be due to allergens such as pollen entering the eyes, or from using a new eye cream. A red and white, raised rash: Known as urticaria urticaria /ur·ti·ca·ria/ (ur?ti-kar´e-ah) hives; a vascular reaction of the upper dermis marked by transient appearance of slightly elevated patches (wheals) which are redder or paler than the surrounding skin and often attended by , this looks like nettle rash and disappears after 20 minutes. It's almost always a sign that you've had an allergic reaction to something you've eaten. Swelling of the lips, tongue and/or face: This is the rarest but most dangerous kind of allergic reaction and can come on very quickly.

It can be the result of eating a food such as peanuts or shellfish, from taking certain medication or from a wasp sting. It can quickly develop into anaphylactic shock, in which the throat and airways swell and breathing becomes difficult. It can kill in minutes, so you must get to hospital immediately.

"But I've eaten peanuts before!"

Contrary to popular belief, an allergy always develops to something you've been exposed to before, so don't think you can't become allergic to peanuts just because you've eaten them many times.

An allergy happens when antibodies in our immune system overact o·ver·act  
v. o·ver·act·ed, o·ver·act·ing, o·ver·acts

v.tr.
To act (a dramatic role) with unnecessary exaggeration.

v.intr.
1. To exaggerate a role; overplay.

2.
 to something harmless they see as a threat. They trigger the production of histamine, which causes the symptoms we associate with allergies. But, to produce antibodies in the first place, your body must have encountered a substance at least once before.

Why adults get allergies

Here are some reasons: They run in the family: Allergies seem to have a genetic component. Many people find, when they ask their parents, that there's a history of allergies in the family.

Life today is too clean: Our immune system needs constant stimulation to stop it over-reacting to safe things. Overuse overuse Health care The common use of a particular intervention even when the benefits of the intervention don't justify the potential harm or cost–eg, prescribing antibiotics for a probable viral URI. Cf Misuse, Underuse.  of antibacterial products and general overcleanliness may prevent this vital stimulation happening. You took a lot of antibiotics as a child: Some studies suggest this could make you more likely to develop allergies as an adult.

Why a sudden reaction?

We're not sure exactly but a sudden allergy in adulthood nearly always happens after something has shaken up the immune system, including any of the following: You've had a strep throat infection.

You've been through a serious illness or operation.

You've recently been through the menopause.

Your body has been through a period of extreme emotional stress such as bereavement Bereavement Definition

Bereavement refers to the period of mourning and grief following the death of a beloved person or animal. The English word bereavement
 or divorce.

Getting treated

Your doctor may want to do an allergy skin test allergy skin test Patch test, see there . Treatment then involves avoiding known allergens, plus - depending on symptoms - the use of antihistamine antihistamine (ăn'tĭhĭs`təmēn), any one of a group of compounds having various chemical structures and characterized by the ability to antagonize the effects of histamine. , nasal sprays and decongestants.

If you have a severe allergy that puts you at risk of anaphylactic shock, you'll need to carry an adrenaline jab with you at all times.

I developed hay fever at 35

Vanessa Sterling, 35, is an art curator from London. I was walking down the street at the beginning of spring this year when I first noticed the symptoms.

My eyes were sore and swollen, and my nose felt blocked. I had no idea what was wrong and thought I might be getting a cold.

I carried on as normal, putting up with feeling poorly until I mentioned it to my fiance, Patrick. He suffers with allergies and said: 'You know what, it sounds like hay fever.'

I thought he must be wrong as I'd never suffered from any sort of allergy - I'd assumed you only developed them as a kid. But, with a cold ruled out, I went to the pharmacist and he agreed with Patrick and suggested I tried some antihistamine. Within an hour, my eyes had calmed down and my nose was clear. My doctor then confirmed the diagnosis.

Now, when it's windy and the pollen is blowing off the trees, my hay fever gets really Sometimes, it stops me working as my eyes are so swollen, I can't look at my computer screen.

I've no idea why it developed so suddenly, although I've had a stressful year planning a wedding and moving house.

Talking to my family, I've since discovered that my mother developed an allergy to pollen in her 50s, so maybe it runs in the family. I just hope it doesn't get any worse.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 5, 2009
Words:971
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