Measles Information

Ragweed in focus in the foreground with person in a sun hat blowing their nose blurred out in the background.
Ragweed in focus in the foreground with person in a sun hat blowing their nose blurred out in the background.

Do Seasonal Allergies Develop With Age?

An Allergist Has Answers

Are your spring or fall sniffles something new at age 30 — or 50? Unfortunately, allergies can strike any time, and it's not uncommon for you to develop them later in life. 

One theory as to why adults may get allergies is that they may not have been exposed to the same allergens as a child. For example, people who lived on farms may have fewer allergies than people who grew up in the city. It's also possible to experience an allergic episode earlier in life, only to have symptoms temporarily fade and then reappear in adulthood. This can even occur in people who had allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) as a child.

"Getting a pet or moving to a new region in the country with different foliage can trigger new symptoms," says Baiju Malde, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at Northwestern Medicine. "Often, it can take three years of being exposed to a certain seasonal foliage before you develop symptoms."

Understanding Allergies

Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to a substance in the environment, like pollen, dust mites or pet dander. These instigators are called allergens. Not everyone responds the same. Your protective immune system may be overly sensitive to substances that aren't necessarily harmful, like pollen, while your sibling can run through a budding arboretum sneeze-free.

Once an allergen has creeped in, usually through the nose, it triggers an antibody response and your immune system releases a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes your nose to produce more mucus and become swollen and inflamed. A runny nose often itches, triggering sneezing and watering eyes.  

Common Seasonal Triggers

Triggers for allergies typically come in the warmer, growing seasons. The most common triggers, include:

  • Spring and summer: tree and grass pollen and spores from molds and fungi
  • Fall: ragweed pollen or other weed pollen

Many environmental changes across the country are creating a higher concentration of airborne pollutants. These pollutants can worsen symptoms of both allergies and asthma.

Allergy Testing and Treatment

If you start to have cold-like symptoms — runny, itchy nose and sneezing — after spending time outside, close your windows and rinse off in the shower.

If you have more severe symptoms, taking over-the-counter or prescription medications, under the advice of your physician, may help. If your symptoms do not improve and continue to affect your quality of life, it might be time to see an allergist for a full evaluation.

To diagnose seasonal allergies, your allergist will have you undergo one of these tests:

  • Scratch test or prick test to apply specific allergens to the surface of your back or arm. If your skin turns red or develops raised bumps after 15 minutes, you are reacting to that allergen.
  • Blood test to check for the presence of antibodies linked to specific allergens.

Following testing, your physician might recommend allergy shots as an alternative to medications. Allergy shots are a way to train your body to tolerate the things you're allergic to. However, this treatment takes commitment. If you decide to have allergy shots, typically you will start with weekly injections, then move on to monthly injections for three to five years.

Allergies can be a nuisance, so discuss your symptoms with your care team to pinpoint specific triggers and find some relief.