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May 9th, 2008
01:37 PM ET

Allergies and age

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

When I was a little girl, my mother would get allergy shots. It was a big deal, because in my childlike mind, I could never understand why anyone would use a needle to get relief. But she was one of those people who was allergic to everything: pollen, ragweed, mold. She was miserable all year long. The shots helped her make it through the day. But as she got older, her allergies changed. She gave up the inoculations, took some over the counter medication and eventually weaned herself off the meds. The allergens just didn't seem to bother her anymore.

Fast forward 30 years. My mom is now 83 and guess what? Her allergies are back. They're not as bad as when she was in her thirties, but they effect her enough to alter her life. She avoids going out on high pollen days and keeps her windows closed; leaving the air conditioning on. She sneezes a lot and feels rundown from time to time. But she says they are still not as bad as when she was younger.

Doctors say the return of allergies as we get older is not unusual. Some people can have allergic reactions when they're young and then never have them again when they hit middle age. Some sufferers are like my mother, who go for years without symptoms and then, wham -they come back. Or others can go their whole lives without allergies and then in their forties and fifties start to sneeze and wheeze.

Allergists say there are a number of factors that cause this. Dr. Jordan Josephson, an otolaryngologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City says, "Allergens are getting worse and worse. There are things called super antigens, which means that all the car exhaust and pollution that can link up with maybe mold and creating super antigens that people are more allergic to." Dr. Josephson even mentions that global warming may play a part. As the climate of our planet shifts and our weather patterns change, allergen strains tend to become more potent.

Physicians also warn that as you age, allergies can become more of a health problem. Watch out if you are grabbing an over the counter medication for relief. If you're taking prescription medicine for blood pressure or cholesterol, the OTC medication could cause some negative reactions. Dr. Josephson warns, "If you have heart problems any decongestants can adversely affect those heart problems. You have to be very, very careful and if you are a man and you are having a prostate problem, as men get older they tend to have that, antihistamines and decongestants can cause your prostate to act up and swell and can give you terrible urinary problems." Stay in touch with your doctor and make sure you're getting your allergies treated properly.

Are you an allergy sufferer? How have your allergies changed your life and what do you do to fight them? Let us know.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation. 

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Maria

    When I was 2 years old I played in the tall grass one sunny afternoon with my cousins. When my Mom saw me return she almost had an heart attack. I was covered from top to toe in horrible hives. I didn't understand the fuss she was making about it but that's how I found out I was allergic, not only to pollen but also to dust mites. I struggled during my childhood in between being closed up in a room with a towel under my nose or zoned out on the coach from side effects of my medications. When I started injection therapy at the age of 18 a new world opened to me. One in which I could actually go outside on a nice day-even if it was only for 30 minutes.

    I have been promised that my allergies would lessen with puberty. Which was true: I became allergic to more things. I added molds and pet dander to my list. I was promised they would change with pregnancy and childbirth. They did, I developed food allergies. So you can imagine I'm not looking forward to menopause. What else is there to get allergic to? I do not want to find out. But time creeps by and it will be inevitable.

    I'm one of those highly sensitive people, I have been on injection therapy for 20 years now and I am maxed out on my allergy medication year round. Which means I'm still locked up in my room on some high pollen and windy days. But I cope. I go around my day as usual even when I feel like crap. But I really get frustrated by all these people who start whining at the first sniffle, or itch. Please get yourself some medication and a boatload less of self-pity. Think about the smiling person in the cubicle next to you. She may be strange as she appears to be happy to be inside on a nice day, or elated when it rains. But she really would like to be more like you and enjoy the beautiful weather, a dog and a nice meal without a hassle.

    May 9, 2008 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Gillian MInsos

    Allergies have completely changed my life. I could wear eye shadow, mascara etc up until I was 25. Slowly, I have become allergic to most cosmetic products, most recently face cream and foundation. I can still wear blush and powder, but am scared for the day when I can't wear those products either. My mom is exactly the same. I'm 36 and am worried that I'm going to be living in a bubble by the time I'm 40!!!!

    May 9, 2008 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Louise

    I had an allergic reaction to milk when I was an infant. So I rarely drink milk or consume dairy products. This has been the case since about 1952.

    In 1972 I decided to find out what I was allergic to and had the tests. Well I reacted to everything they tested me for except horse hair and kapoc. When I saw the allergist I was told I had nasal polyps, started injections, and went to ENT specialist to have the polyps removed. They were back six weeks later. I have had so many sinus surgeries over the years because of the polyps. Then the polyps turned into an inverted papilloma. Three surgeries later I am tumor free but lost some tear ducts and had a hole drilled in my head. I also rarely have headaches anymore.

    The allergy shots never worked for me. I ended up removing anything with milk in it from my diet and things greatly improved. If I start eating a lot of cheese again then I am in trouble.

    I am now 56 and suffer from itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. I am on blood pressure medication so I don't take allergy medication. I rely on a nasal spray for relief of the runny nose and occaisionally use eye drops for the itchy eyes. I sneeze regardless of what I do.

    I try to stay inside on windy days and avoid dairy products. I have learned to live with the sneezing and I always make sure I have tissue.

    May 9, 2008 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Paul Bellizia

    I'm 33 years old. I've had allergies all my life. Every year it seems to get worse. The only thing that I found beneficial is Xolair and I got a septo-plasty (widened my nasal passages). I get a Xolair shot once a month and I can honestly say i feel 40-50% better. I'm less congested & my eyes don't itch as much (especially in the morning when allergies are high and around animals). Xolair treats asthma & allergies. I recommend going to your allergist and get blood tested for Xolair. It won't cure your allergies but it will make a big difference in your life.

    May 10, 2008 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. susanne

    I never had allergies until my early thirties. Then, I became allergic to ragweed in the springtime, which now, in my late-thirties, seems to get worse every year. I take over-the-counter meds which, at least, allows me to get my sleep uninterrupted. I hope these allergic reactions disappear as abruptly as they came.

    May 10, 2008 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • nina

      i've had to learn way more than i wanted to know about ragweed, allergic to it and cats since a kid. in the 30 yrs since i
      was driven to get treatment i've never heard of ragweed dihiscing (pollen release) it is true there are many varieties. i used
      to be able to mark my calendar, august 18 for ragweed, and april 18 for tree pollens. tree-wise, worst offender proved to be
      elm tho oak which is the latest about to pollinate also bad. accuweather's site seems best map-wise for pollen tracking to me.
      some people are more spring tree allergic, or mostly grass, or pet, or mold not always all nor always both spring or fall.
      if you plan to stay put for 4-5 yrs that i'm told is a good duration for allergy shots to be most effective, if you can swing it.
      find out from allegists offices which plans cover them. some states require insurers to sell individuals with policies. this way,
      the premiums i paid approached? costs for a weekly visit for shots. it may be less costly if your shots just need include tree.

      October 23, 2010 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
  6. Leafgreen

    Maria and Gillian, the drug companies are doing the same thing that they do to with people who believe they have ADD: get you addicted. Have you considered that these allergy drugs are actually *worsening* your body's natural reaction to allergens? Please, pick up a copy of Dr. Weil's 8 Weeks to Optimum Health on eBay (very cheap) or wherever.
    Kind Regards,
    Leafgreen

    May 11, 2008 at 02:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Alison

    I had several food allergies as a small child that seemed to disappear in my late childhood and my teen years. However, when I was in my late 20s, they all came back again. They weren't as bad as they had been in childhood, but they were back!

    My entire family is very allergic. We have seasonal, pet, and food allergies. My mother and sister had asthma in their youth, and my grandmother had terrible eczema. My poor toddler son inherited ALL of it. He has SEVERAL severe food allergies. He gets hives from various grasses and pollen exposure. I just hope he has that period of relief in his late childhood and teen years like I had. I was also thrilled that for over a year after the birth of my son I had greatly diminished allergies myself. It is obvious to me that big physical, hormonal, and chemical changes in our systems change the way our bodies deal with allergies.

    May 11, 2008 at 03:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kori

    I have had allergies for as long as I can remember. In high school I was checking the pollen counts daily to see what I could do with sports and what I couldn't. When I got pregnant, my allergies decided to hibernate and I felt great for the entire 9 months. However, after my son was born they came back.

    I had to change jobs 2 times because my allergies were so bad I was missing more and more work. After landing a corporate job in a clean environment, I was able to relax at work. My home life was not so lucky- my son was now into little league and my days at the ball park were doing a number on me and my body. I always felt worn down and tired. After several useless attempts at OTC meds, I finally got referred to a specialist. Two skins test later and a messed up sinus surgery has lead me to learning that I am allergic to everything possible (including some meds). The surgery did help a little and so far this year I have only had two days that I needed meds. And even though we have found out what I am allergic to there is no meds available right now to help relieve me so I still have to watch the pollen count and take OTC. I'm hoping that the problems leave sooner than later so I can enjoy my life more and not have to worry about what my body will do if I go outside and play with my kids or help my husband with yard work or take our dogs for a walk (who I am allergic to only a little bit).

    May 11, 2008 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Marie

    I'm also a hyper sensitive person. When growing up I was allergic to many foods including oranges and believe it or not chocolate. I remember going to grade school with red bumps and inflamed skin all over my arms. I stood up in front of my class in fourth grade and told them I had allergies. The medication (which was some white paste cream) didn't work that well. Years later, I found out I was allergic to many other foods I kept eating as a child....including milk.
    I'm now in my 40's and a few years ago my allergies (to every tree, grass, bush, dust mites etc.) came back severely. I stopped wearing makeup since I couldn't breath and my eyes watered. It's been hell every since, I stopped taking an hour each morning to get ready and my self esteem as taken a nose dive. My current trouble is a rash underneath my arms which I can't get rid of even with medicine. It comes and goes. I do count my blessings, when I have hours where I can breath and my eyes don't water...which isn't too often.

    May 12, 2008 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. MFMcSweeney

    I have had allergies for many years. Seasonal spring, fall, & winter. When weather changes I sometimes can't even be myself because of the sinus pain. In June I usually get the ichy eyes, sneezing, coughing, etc..... I am 53 years old now and still suffer with very bad sinus head pain. I started using the Neti Pot, (a saline solution used in your nasal passage once a day and it releives some pressure. You can use it more than once a day too. It beats taking medications that make me feel drowsy or hyper. It works pretty good for now and I have been using it for about 2 months now. We will see if helps me in June.

    May 12, 2008 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ratna, New York, NY

    dear Val,

    There might be a genetic component involved in this. I never had allergies in childhood, but as I got older, I grew more intollerant to wheat products and pollen. My mother has allergies. By the way: I come from a tropical country from South America, where allergies are only during the monsoon rainy seasons.

    WIth allergies there is a first mild response and usually at the second and third response, the IgA's and IgE's are more aggressive. So I am wondering what kind of allergens are playing a role.

    May 12, 2008 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Elizabeth

    As a kid I constantly had snot running down my face but never cared because it was always there. As I got older I was never without at least 3 Kleenex hanging around pockets, purses, backpacks, and the car. It got worse after puberty, but I never gave it much thought and just figured I always had some minor cold. Eventually it became apparent that I had allergies and not colds. I took Benadryl sometimes but it made me narcoleptic. I tried Claritin for a few years but it seemed mildly effective at best. Finally I went to see an allergist (best choice ever!). They did the skin test on my back and I came back allergic to EVERYTHING (even dust mites, which usually aren't present in Colorado even though I have only ever lived there). The separate pollen areas even melded into one giant welt! The allergist put me on the saline nasal rinse twice a day, allegra, flonase, and patanol (eyedrops). Since times have been getting tighter and allergy meds less regulated, I switched to Zyrtec and Zatidor (eyedrops) to cut costs and both work great! I would recommend the saline nasal rinse to everyone; it makes a huge impact and theoretically even helps you not get sick (I haven't in over a year). I'm lucky not to really have food or skin allergies (the pink in my tattoo acts up from time to time, but I guess that's my own fault). As a geologist who works outdoor and lives with cats, it feels like my life is changed! I can breathe out my nose for the first time and don't feel constantly itchy. Those allergists know what they are doing.

    May 14, 2008 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Diane

    I have been experiencing massive headaches for the past 10 years, last year I had 110 headaches and lived on Imitrex. This March I had the balloon sinuplasty and it releaved all of the congestion. I have been re-tested for allergies and tomorrow will pick up my allergy drops.
    My advise, go to a qualified ENT and get a sinus scan, perhaps the balloon sinuplasty will be the answer for you too.

    May 14, 2008 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Alana

    I'm 22 and have had horrible allergies all my life. When I was 19 I finally went to an allergist and got tested. I responded so badly that the nurse said it would be easier to just count what I wasn't allergic to, which was like two trees and cats (thank god because I have three cats). I've learned to deal with my seasonal allergies and unfortunately the doctor couldn't help with the allergies I couldn't deal with; metal, medicine, cleaning products. I'm so allergic to metals that make-ups with chromium or cobalt (everything blue and green) gives me rashes, deodorant is hard to handle, I have to sew patches in my jeans where the buttons are and if I wash the dishes I can't let my arms touch the sink because they'll swell. Before I figured out I was allergic to metal my ears swelled up till they looked like purple cauliflower because I had six piercings. I'm getting the shots now but I hate them because they don't help my problem allergies. I also always leave the allergy clinic with egg sized welts that last for days and always bruise.

    I'm not allergic to foods (like we previously thought) but I do have Crohn's disease and pre diabetes. Everything I encounter has to be analyzed based on how bad my body will react to it.

    May 15, 2008 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jan

    when is latex allergy getting serious help.
    i would like to eat out again, shopping without being afraid, have my life back. any laws in the sight?
    jan ronk

    May 15, 2008 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Laurie Anne (Malta)

    I started suffering allergies after reaching puberty. In my late teens up to 29 years of age I suffered from rashes mainly on my neck and face. Of course the doctor used tro prescribe hydrocortesone. Even certain make up brands and costume jewellery used to make me 'flare up'.Then when I turned 30 I started having frequent allergies in my sinuses. First I was given both antibiotics and nasal sprays. Then I was told that sprays do more damage than good so I stopped using them altogether. Now that I'm close to my forties the allergies have lessend even if I do wheeze a bit. I have to say that this used to happen especially with the change of season mostly from winter to spring. I think it's the pollen and the Sahara winds filled with dust that we get at this time of year.

    May 16, 2008 at 05:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jane Fleming

    I have been having a runny nose itchy eyes and ear pain. The Dr diagnosed me as having a ear infection that was fungal. He showed me the fungus that was growing against my ear drum. He thinks that I have been exposed to mold and fungus spores as we live in a humid climate and there is a lot of humidity in the air combined with lots of dust.

    He put me on 5mg Pendisone, I have been on it for 3 days now and all my runny nose and eye itchy eyes have subsided. I looked up Prendisone and it said not to take it if I have any fungal infections. Is it dangerous for me to continue the full 10 course of treatment?

    He thinks the exposure is enviromental in our house air conditionare. Are Ionizers better than Hepa air filters for removing mold and fungus spores.

    Jane

    May 18, 2008 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. EJ

    I think the only thing I'm allergic to is the Bush Administration.

    May 24, 2008 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. nina

    i've only ever heard of ionizers as releasing negative ions, giving some sense of lift as when by a waterfall, during storms, in snowfall. yet lately i've noticed some units have ionizing, charcoal filters, and a hepa filter as well. thinking about a travel
    unit available at a supplier i should not say its name i guess, maybe google on best value in allergy supply products.

    also as to susanne, i meant to say i never heard of ragweed releasing pollen in springtime, sorry, somehow missed the edit chance.

    October 23, 2010 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Susan

    **Never thought I had allergies. When I was a kid, however, I can remember getting itchy after rolling around in grass. Another thing is that from early childhood to present, I always had a need to clear my throat.
    **Then two years ago, age 55, in November, I started coughing. It was something that I couldn't avoid; itchy throat. In a few weeks there was a lot of mucus with the cough. I was blowing my nose repeatedly all morning until noon and coughing. At work the rest of the day I would cough and blow my nose a little. I sounded like I had a cold or allergies. It didn't feel like a cold though. I know it was something else. This happened every day for 1 1/2 years.
    **Doctors said it was a virus then said allergies.None of the medicines they gave me seemed to help at all. After a test, found out I had a mild reaction to grass. But since my sinus were so blocked with mucus I had a septo-plasty (cleaned out and widened my nasal passages). After that the symptoms continued and the surgeon recommended starting grass allergy shots.
    **I am now 58 and been taking grass allergy shots for 6 months. I am not coughing or blowing my nose. I still clear my throat a lot due to habit and small amount of mucus is there but I wash my sinus and throat everyday with a NeilNed Sinus Rinse bottle using the packets of sinus rinse that come in the kit. I use it with moderate force getting the solution up into the sinus area by squeezing the bottle and inhaling through the nose at the same time. The ritual of cleansing my sinus' is so helpful.
    **I'm so much better. At the end of one year of shots, I'll see the doctor again and be evaluated. If the shots seem to be working, I'll have to continue for 4 more years because it takes that long to get the body to (hopefully) permanently stop the reaction to grass. I started with 2 shots per week for a few months. Then the schedule is 1 per week for a while, 1 every other week to 1 every 3 weeks, then 1 per month. It dose is slowly increased to a maximum level in the first few months and stays at that level for the rest of the treatment. Not a big deal except going in for the shot so frequently at first.
    **I don't know why I suddenly got real sick 2 years ago but am very grateful I now have relief without drugs other than the grass shots.

    January 14, 2011 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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  24. Sunshine

    Thanks for this information. As i can recall it, i started developing allergies (rhinitis) back in my first year in college in my hometown. that was in 1990. when i transferred school in the city, i did not suffer from the allergy i experienced back in the province. It was like that until i came to the metropolitan area to work. and from them, allergy has never eluded me. every day, every morning, it is always a ritual to sneeze. on worse cases when there is weather change or temperature is too cold, i suffer from repeated sneezing, which i fear sometimes could result to asthma. initially, i was prescribed a inhaler/spray along with some drugs and i was again okay for sometime. But my allergy came again not long after and i had to depend on some OTC medications. i remember i consulted an allergologist and she recommended i undergo tests to determine the cause of the allergen. i got a second opinion and was told that even if we find out what the cause of my allergy, there are still other causes that may trigger the allergy. so in short, i agreed with the second doctor and i was prescribed another brand of inhaler/spray, which was a bit milder from the first one i used. still after months of using the inhaler, i developed some immunity again. i felt the inhalers were not so effective since i continue to suffer from the allergy even after using them.. now, I am frequently taking some brands of antihistamines which gives me fast relief and allows me to recover for the rest of the day. my worry, however, is if taking these medicines daily will affect my kidney or liver or other body parts? i refrain from taking antihistamines when necessary, say when am just at home, i try not to take these meds and just allow the allergy to go on during the day. Sometimes, it just go away especially during afternoon or evening. but i am still concern of the adverse effects of the branded antihistamines which i took or will take when i needed them so badly...

    November 11, 2011 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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  28. Me

    Laying here another day wishing I knew which direction to go for help with allergies. Feel like it has robbed my life. I suffer year around. Spring & fall are the worst! My eyes burn almost all the time & I take some kind of pain killer almost everyday for allergy headaches. I don't know if I should move to another state. Would allergy shots help me?

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