After I blew out the candle on my 18th birthday cake without experiencing the allergies that plagued the rest of my family, I figured I’d be home free — sailing into adulthood with clear eyes, clear skin and open sinuses (can’t lose). However, my late 20s and early 30s had other plans for me. Summer pollen wasn’t just the scourge of my freshly washed car; it gave me the machine-gun sneezes and a decidedly less sexy version of Kathleen Turner’s celebrated rasp. And autumn went from pumpkin-spice latte season to ragweed central.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, I’m hardly alone in this. Adult-onset allergies impact roughly 30 percent of people in the U.S.
Dr. Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, tells SheKnows, “there is no singular reason for what causes adult-onset allergies, but it is likely… a combination of several factors, including gender, genetics, climate change and other environmental factors.”
Though old wives tales insist that the nature of our allergies changes every seven years or so, those old gals are talking out of turn. There is no grand cyclical change. Allergies are more impacted by environmental factors, he explains.
Women may experience hormonal fluxes, particularly during pregnancy and menopause, that make them vulnerable to allergies. Pollen counts are on the rise and pollen seasons are lasting longer thanks to a swell of greenhouse gasses, which can cause certain plants to produce more allergens, like the dreaded ragweed. Research also suggests that allergies tend to flare more severely in city-dwellers since we’re not only contending with the increased pollen count, we’re also coming into daily contact with air pollutants as well.
Bassett says that one of the most common questions he hears from his patients is about how to distinguish allergies from the common cold. “Some symptoms of a cold and allergies are similar: sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose. But if your symptoms are also accompanied with a fever, sore throat, colored nasal discharge and achiness, then you probably have a cold or infection.”
The summer cold has ruined many a beach weekend, but it may still be preferable to allergies — which can last all year round. So what should those of us in that unlucky 30 percent who get to add allergies to the other burdens of adulthood do to breathe easier?
The best way to start is by using an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray to combat congestion. Basset recommends Flonase Sensimist regularly and consistently, starting at least two weeks before pollen season starts. Since stress can negatively impact our immune systems, and thus exacerbate our allergies, keeping our chill can keep us from letting out an “ah-choo!”
Bassett suggests that living a healthier, more balanced life all-around will help us with allergies — he’s especially keen on getting proper vitamin D, sleep and exercise. Since pollen is the root of all evil — or at least, the root of my sneezes — Bassett recommends reducing our exposure to the green stuff by “monitoring pollen counts, exercising indoors on high pollen days, showering nightly to rinse pollens from your skin and hair and keeping windows closed and setting air-conditioners on ‘re-circulate.’”
Allergies definitely aren’t the best part of becoming an adult (that would be the ability to eat Captain Crunch for dinner without any consequences), but they don’t have to completely ruin our seasons. Taking Bassett’s advice and seek out a local allergist if need be — it can ensure that summertime means that the breathin’ is easy.