Can you develop seasonal allergies later in life?

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 3 min read

Ah, the changing seasons. The budding trees, blooming flowers and sprouting grasses. The itchy eyes, sneezing fits and scratchy throat. Wait a minute. You never had seasonal allergies before. What’s going on? Can you develop seasonal allergies as an adult? Yep – turns out you can. In fact, you can develop allergies at any age.

Why adults develop allergies

A lot of people think that you’re born with allergies or can only develop them during early childhood. But the truth is that a lot of people develop allergies during their 20s, 40s and even beyond – suddenly becoming sensitive to certain foods or things in their environment like ragweed and mold. Why? The truth is that doctors don’t really know why adults develop allergies, but they do have some theories.

Why adult-onset allergies happen

1. We’re on the move

According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, roughly 13 percent of people in the U.S. move each year. Whether that move takes you across town or across the country, you can suddenly be exposed to all sorts of new allergens including new plants and trees.

2. We’re getting older

Aging is a fact of life. And, as we age, our immune systems naturally weaken. Over time, this makes us more susceptible to things like germs, illnesses and (you guess it) allergies.

3. We’re too clean

From antibacterial cleaning products to hand sanitizer, a lot of us are hypervigilant about keeping ourselves and things in our environment as clean as possible. The result? Our immune systems are more prone to overact to allergens in our environment.

4. It’s getting hotter

A warming planet is leading to longer growing seasons. This means that grasses and weeds that previously only thrived – and shed pollen – for a few months out of the year, now have a longer growing season.

In reality, your late induction into the seasonal allergy sufferers club is likely due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

What happens in your body when you have allergies?

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from seasonal allergies. And, if you notice symptoms like itchy eyes and a stuffy nose after spending time outside, you’re probably one of them.  

These types of symptoms happen when your body’s immune system kicks into high gear and overacts to something in your environment. In the case of seasonal allergies, common allergens like pollen and mold cause the immune system to produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). 

These IgE antibodies carry messages to the cells in your eyes, nasal passages, throat and airways to release the chemical histamine. When this happens, an inflammatory response is triggered and you experience those annoying allergy symptoms. 

Common seasonal allergy symptoms

  • Postnasal drip
  • Itchy & watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Dark circles & puffiness under eyes
  • Stuffed up & runny nose
  • Cough
  • Scratchy & sore throat

An allergic reaction is essentially your body’s way of protecting you from what it believes to be dangerous foreign invaders. By triggering an inflammatory response, your body is attempting to block allergens while also triggering an immune response to ward off possible infection.

Get relief from seasonal allergy symptoms

Seasonal allergy symptoms like sneezing and coughing can make you feel awful. Thankfully, you don’t need to lock yourself indoors for months on end. With the right allergy treatment and management plan, you can get your allergy symptoms under control.

Seasonal allergy symptom relief

1. Nasal steroids

Available both over the counter and by prescription, nasal steroid sprays work by reducing swelling and inflammation within the nasal passages. Nasal steroid sprays help clear nasal passages – helping reduce nasal and sinus pressure and pain.

Pro tip: To reduce the risk of negative side effects, talk to a healthcare provider to ensure you know how to correctly and safely use your nasal steroid spray.

2. Oral & nasal antihistamines

When our immune system overreacts to something in our environment, it produces the chemical histamine. The release of histamine causes blood vessels in the eyes, nose and throat to dilate and swell which we experience as allergy symptoms. Antihistamines work to block this immune response.

Pro tip: Drowsiness is a side effect of some oral antihistamines. Work with a healthcare provider to ensure you’re taking a medication that works for you and your lifestyle.

Remember that all medications, whether available over the counter or by prescription, have side effects. Talk to a board-certified nurse practitioner at Virtuwell about how to safely and effectively treat your seasonal allergies online.  

Share this post

Do you know someone who could use a simple & affordable healthcare option?