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Allergies Health Center

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Adult-Onset Allergies

By John Donovan
WebMD Feature

Let’s be clear: Allergies aren’t kids’ stuff. Well, they’re not just kids’ stuff.

That scratchy throat you thought was just a cold? The runny nose you figured was the flu? That run-down feeling you just can’t shake?

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Sure, you may be paying into Social Security or have a kid in college. You might even have grandkids. But even though you’re an adult, you could have allergies even if you’ve never had them before.

“The interesting thing is, the majority of people get allergies for the first time -- when I say allergies, I mean like allergic rhinitis, asthma, those kinds of things -- as a kid,” says Kevin McGrath, MD, an allergist in Wethersfield, CT. “But we often see the onset in a lot of adults, around the 30s and 40s, and another group in the 50s and 60s. It can go in any age group.”

So anybody can come down with an allergy? At any age? For the first time?

“I’ve seen people in their 60s and 70s that are retired, never had any allergy symptoms or asthma and suddenly develop it,” McGrath says. “It’s pretty frustrating if somebody finally gets to retire and they walk out the door to play golf, they’ve never had trouble before, and suddenly they do.”

How Common Are They?

Nearly 18 million adults in the United States have hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. It’s caused by pollens, weeds, grasses, and molds. Many more have allergic reactions to other things in the environment, like dust mites, dogs, and cats. Some are allergic to foods, like peanuts or shellfish. Still others are allergic to medicines, like penicillin.

Doctors don’t know exactly how many adults are diagnosed with allergies for the first time. But nasal allergies affect as many as 30% of adults, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

“As the population is aging, we’re seeing that people can have late-onset allergies,” says Beth Corn, MD, an allergist in New York City. “Now, it could be that some people were not diagnosed; they might have really had allergies earlier on. It just might be that people are also a little bit more aware now of allergies.”

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