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Allergies Evolve as You Age

September 14, 2016 (Updated: August 3, 2021)
Lily Moran

Pop quiz time!  Q: What do cats and latex rubber gloves have in common? A: They’re both common allergens. So are peanuts, mold, dust mites, pollen, cat and dog dander, soy products, birch trees…it’s a mile-long list.

That’s what makes allergies almost entertaining.

Not that we should take them lightly—they range from mildly annoying to sometimes deadly.

But they really keep us guessing. There are so many allergens, popping up in our lives, seemingly randomly. Leather…and eggs? Huh?

The only unifying thread is genetic predisposition. A child with one allergic parent has a 33 percent likelihood to develop allergies. With two allergic parents, it’s 70 percent.

Now you see us…

To keep us guessing even more, allergies play peek-a-boo with us, changing how they act, and how we react, over our lifetime. Today, or this year or decade, you’re a sneezing, itchy-eyed, wheezing, mucus factory. Tomorrow, next year, next decade…you’re fine.

Fortunately, you can make allergies more manageable.

Allergies 101—your immune system overdoes it

Allergies are the fifth most common chronic disease in the U.S., with an estimated health-care cost of $7.9 billion per year. Just over half (55 percent) of the U.S. population test positive to one or more allergens.

Behind it all is your immune system making a mistake. It senses a threat in that cat fur or dust mite or mold and attacks, even though there’s nothing inherently dangerous in the vast majority of allergens. That’s why Aunt Martha can sleep with cats on her face.

Once an allergy has been triggered, an antibody called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, becomes a permanent part of your immune system’s arsenal.

You can’t un-produce it.

So next time the darn cat shows up, here come the symptoms. Don’t let the purring deter you. Steer clear.

Aging helps…and doesn’t

Your immune system becomes less responsive as you see your 40th birthday recede in your rear-view mirror. In some ways, that can be helpful. You produce less IgE with age, so your reaction to an allergen should be less severe than in the past.

But you don’t want to be under-protected.

Cue your adrenal glands.

Most allergic reactions begin with the release of histamine and other substances that produce the inflammation that brings on allergy symptoms. The mucus-faucet runny nose and congested lungs? All that liquid helps “wash away” the offending allergen.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

The hormone cortisol, produced by your adrenal glands, plays a key anti-inflammatory role as it works to reduce the symptoms brought on by the histamine.

But older adrenals often have trouble keeping up with the demand for cortisol. This slows the relief of symptoms…which increases the demand for more cortisol…which becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

How you can breathe easier

The first order of business is to know your status, making sure you know if you’re a candidate for a serious reaction, like asthma, or an extreme reaction to a bee sting or stings. If yes, always keep an inhaler and an epi-pen with you.

Be aware, also, that some medications and some allergy treatments interact dangerously. Whether you’re using something over the counter or on prescription, make sure your doctor clears any allergy treatment as safe.

If you’re older and have garden variety allergies—not threatening but so annoying, you’ll want your adrenal glands in tiptop shape. I recommend 4,000 mg of vitamin C, twice daily.

I’ve also recently become aware of a new supplement with powerful anti-allergy effects: quail eggs. In the 1970s, a clever French physician noticed that his patients who raised quail didn’t suffer the allergies that plagued his other patients in the countryside. He was able to identify quail eggs as the difference maker. Further research has demonstrated that powdered quail egg is invaluable for allergy symptom relief.

I also recommend any of a number of longtime proven natural preventers and relievers.

Butterbur relieves allergy and asthma symptoms in 90 percent of patients with minimal side effects, and is as effective as two huge Big Pharma drugs: Zyrtec (side effects: somnolence, insomnia, fatigue, dry mouth) and Allegra (nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, muscle or back discomfort or pain, sleepiness, headache, and menstrual cramps).

Rosmarinic acid, an extract of rosemary, inhibits histamine production. Combining with perilla leaf extract increases its antihistamine efficacy.

The quercetin found in many fruits and vegetables, particularly onions, works as well as Big Pharma drugs for inhibiting reaction symptoms.

Bromelain, an enzyme from pineapple, has anti-inflammatory abilities that make it another good choice for treating seasonal allergies.

Extracts of stinging nettle have been used to treat allergies since ancient times.

Follow the dosage directions on any product you select.

As always, the baseline most important thing you can do is to practice safe eating—fresh, unprocessed, natural, local—healthy natural oils, lots of fruits, veggies, and healthy protein.

Add the other lifestyle essentials—exercise, social and intellectual activities—and you’ll always be better prepared to ride out allergies as they come.


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