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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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.