Will your allergy symptoms get better or even go away? Or are they “chronic,” which means they are here for the long run?
The answer isn’t always simple. Each person's case is different.
Some people, most often children, may outgrow an allergy completely. Others find that with age, their allergy symptoms lighten up. That may be because the immune system can weaken with age, and perhaps can't muster as strong a reaction to the allergen.
But as an adult, once you have an allergy, it usually doesn't go away on its own.
When They Get Worse
Some people find that their allergies worsen over time. That's especially true of allergies to foods, latex, or bee stings, which can result in more serious reactions with each exposure.
Other things also make a big difference. All it takes is a heavy pollen season, or a new job in a moldy building, for allergies to flare up.
Will You Get More Allergies?
If your allergy symptoms seem worse, there could be another reason. You might now have a second allergy -- or third or fourth.
Having one allergy makes you more likely to get others. So if one year your ragweed symptoms seem more severe, it might be a reaction to another allergen that's also in the air.
Allergies can interact in unexpected ways. For instance, up to a third of people who are allergic to pollens also have allergies to foods that have similar proteins in them, like certain vegetables and fruits. Doctors call this “oral allergy syndrome. You could have more severe allergic reactions if you're exposed to both at once -- for instance, if you eat a banana at the height of ragweed allergy season.
The key is to manage your symptoms and let your doctor know if you notice changes.
Why Allergies Happen
You might blame your triggers -- the pollen in the air, your best friend's cat -- for your symptoms.
But actually, most of those things are harmless. What really causes allergic reactions is your immune system. It mistakes innocent things in your surroundings for a serious threat and attacks them. The symptoms you get are the result.
Your odds of developing an allergy start in your genes. While specific allergies are not inherited, a tendency toward having allergies is.
Children with one allergic parent have a 33% chance of developing allergies. With two allergic parents, it's a 70% chance.
Even so, the circumstances have to be just right for something to trigger an allergic reaction.
Other things may also be involved. For instance, if you come into contact with an allergen when you're weak, such as after a viral infection -- you might be more likely to develop an allergy to it.
How an Allergy Starts
It begins with exposure. Even if you've been around a trigger (or “allergen,” as your doctor calls it) many times before with no trouble, your body may suddenly see it as an invader. If this happens, your immune system studies the allergen and makes antibodies against it, in case the same situation happens again.
The mast cells burst open, releasing chemicals such as histamine that cause symptoms such as swelling. Swelling in your nasal passages might cause a runny nose. Swelling in the airways could cause asthma symptoms.
Keep in mind that the amount of exposure can make a difference. If you're allergic to strawberries, you may have been able to eat one or two without symptoms. But once you eat three or four, you suddenly break out in hives. There's a tipping point -- or threshold -- for people with allergies. You can handle some exposure, but too much launches an immune system attack.
The problem is that you can’t predict how you’ll recover. So if you have a food allergy, you should avoid your trigger foods completely.