Why Allergies Change as We Age

September 01, 2021

By Dan Tracy, Editorial Contributor

As we grow older, our body changes and so does our immune system. Just as we no longer run as fast as we once did, we may lose our tolerance to potential allergens, from pollen to dog hair.

And, on the flip side, we may build immunities to the things that once bothered us, research shows. Quite simply, from childhood to retirement, our reactions to allergens change.

Allergies can be mildly annoying, serious – or even life-threatening, says Dr. William Degan, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Bayfront Health St. Petersburg Medical Group Family & Internal Medicine.

We’re not born with allergies, but some people are more prone to them, and families can share genetic factors that make them more likely to develop allergies to environmental elements, chemicals or foods. What’s more, allergies tend to develop in kids when they’re exposed to a lot of outside stimuli for the first time.

Symptoms Range from Mild to Severe

For mild allergies, usually caused by environmental factors, symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sinus pressure
  • Hives

More serious reactions:

  • Swollen lips or tongue
  • Constricted airways, causing wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Anaphylaxis, which can cause vomiting, difficulty breathing and shock
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness or fainting

When to Talk to Your Doctor

Any time you experience new symptoms, you should mention it to your doctor. If you notice the beginnings of an allergic reaction, especially to certain foods, make an appointment. Carrying an EpiPen for emergencies also is important if the allergy advances to threatening levels.  

“Staying vigilant about how your body reacts to foods and the environment can save your life,” Dr. Degan says.

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