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If you’ve never experienced adult asthma or allergy symptoms, that doesn’t mean you are immune.  Many people are surprised to find that they’ve developed these conditions later in life and aren’t sure how to manage them.  Here’s what you need to know about living with allergies as you get older.

Scientists and researchers are still not entirely sure what causes allergies.  Many speculate that allergies are caused by a combination of factors arising from the realities of modern life.  These may include increased exposure to airborne pollutants, spending more time indoors, a sedentary lifestyle or even living in an environment that is too sanitary.

What is known is that allergies are an immune disorder in which your body perceives an otherwise harmless substance as a dangerous invader.  These substances like pollen, dust mites, mold and animal dander are called allergens.  Your immune system then attacks these allergens as if they were harmful, which leads to symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose.

Allergies typically show up in children as their immune systems are developing and maturing.  But our immune systems are always evolving and changing as we age, which means that allergies and adult asthma can potentially show up at any stage of life.

The fact that our immune systems generally weaken as we age may be a big reason why adults develop allergies later in life.  Some research has shown that exposure to allergens while the immune system is compromised—during an illness or pregnancy, for example—can trigger an allergic response.  It makes sense that older adults who are more susceptible to infections like pneumonia would also be more susceptible to allergies.

Some other factors that can trigger allergies as you age including moving to a different location (with different trees, grasses and plants), increased exposure to an allergen or getting a new pet.

If you believe you may have allergies, it is important to speak with your doctor, especially if you’ve never experienced symptoms before.  A doctor will be able to help you determine if your symptoms are actually caused by allergies and he or she want want to test for specific types of allergies as well.  Your doctor may also prescribe medications that can help you manage your symptoms.

The best strategy for controlling your allergies is simply avoiding what triggers your symptoms.  You may need to limit the amount of time you spend outdoors during certain times of the year, especially in the morning when pollen counts are high.  Air filters can help minimize exposure to indoor allergens like dust mites and pet dander.

Allergies and adult asthma are real medical conditions that need to be managed under a doctor’s supervision.  But with medical care and a few precautions, allergies can easily be managed by adults at any stage of life.