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Food Allergies - Adult Onset Allergy

Updated on March 27, 2018
RedElf profile image

RedElf (Elle Fredine) photographer and published author, educator. Life-long learning is key to adding value to life.

Not All Allergies Start Right Away

While it is generally accepted that allergies tend to be present in childhood, while the immature immune system is still developing, it is also accepted that those allergies tend to disappear as the children grow up.

This is not the case with adult on-set allergies, particularly food sensitivities and allergic reactions where symptoms may appear quite suddenly, with no prior warning. Many adults who develop adult-onset allergies may have experienced a mild reaction to something in their childhood, but usually nothing that would raise an alarm. The reaction may indeed have gone completely unnoticed.

I remember quite clearly the first time it happened - my very first brush with an allergic reaction. I had stayed in the sun a bit too long, and had that reddened, crispy feeling that promised to linger for a day or two.

Familiar Foods Can Cause Reactions


Some Allergies Start Later in Life

"At least I didn't burn the back of my neck," I thought. Sun burn on the back of my neck was a guarantee of chills, nausea, and a severe headache.

I wore long sleeves for the next few days, until the color faded, and then went back to a cooler short-sleeved shirt as soon as possible. To my horror, after about fifteen minutes in the sunshine, my arms were covered with raised, red, circular blotches.

Complaining bitterly, I presented myself at the Health Unit the following morning, still looking as if I had been attacked by an irate baby squid - or a school of irate baby squids.

My friend, our local public health nurse, looked at the welts, asked a few questions, and nodded sagely. "You're allergic to the sun," she announced. Apparently, this is a more common allergy than you might think.

"Do you have any other allergies?" she asked. I hastened to assure her that as far as I knew I wasn't sensitive to anything.

"How can I have an allergy - only children get allergies," I insisted.

My friend laughed gently and went on to explain that often allergies will present in children, but that adult on-set allergies were a lot more common that most people realized. She also informed me that where children will often grow out of many allergies or sensitivities, adult on-set allergies are with you forever - you "grow into" them.

She also informed that once an adult developed one allergy, it was quite common for them to discover other allergies or sensitivities as well, and that I might develop some food sensitivities as well.

I must admit that, though properly horrified at the prospect, I really didn't believe I would ever fall heir to any other problems. Since then I have identified a number of both allergies and sensitivities to various substances; some foods, some chemicals - some naturally occurring and some man-made.


Fairly Common Allergy Triggers

For a while it seemed that the list just kept getting longer and longer. It seemed as if admitting to one allergy opened the door to a whole flood of them. Not all were severe, and so these are considered only sensitivities. A few, however, turned out to be quite severe reactions - full-blown allergies.

Generally speaking, allergies are viewed as more or less severe depending on the reaction. In the case of a severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis may occur, characterized by swelling of the throat and tongue, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness. Also called anaphylactic shock this condition is life threatening without proper treatment.

Many who suffer from allergies that trigger such extreme reactions carry epinephrine syringes known as "epipens" and wear Medic Alert bracelets or necklaces. My son carried an epipen for years in his travel kit in case of bee stings.

My list of sensitivities and allergies includes some fairly common ones along with a few rather odd fellows.

Grasses, flowers, ragweed, pollens, and all the lovely flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra-la...again, quite common allergies - annoying and wide-spread.

I won't list all the symptoms - I'm sure we've seen enough commercials to know then by heart! Many of these are easily and effectively combated with an over-the-counter remedy. Which leads me to another on my list - one that is, for me, genuinely life-threatening.

Antihistamines - the very product that makes life bearable for so many of us. This allergy is actually life-threatening in my case, and I had a couple of close calls before I learned the golden rule of "say 'No' to any and all over-the-counter and prescription cold and allergy remedies."

There are two I can safely use, and my doctor has plastered this all over my file, just in case I am ever incapacitated and admitted to the hospital. As well, I have become a practiced pharmaceuticals label reader.

And that is an important point for all allergy sufferers: read the labels, on everything

Sunlight - actually, this is a fairly widespread allergy and, in its extreme form can be life threatening. Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) is the most common form of sun and/or heat allergy, more often seen in women than men. Symptoms include an itchy or burning rash, periods of chills, nausea and headache, and raised areas of flat, reddened welts or fluid-filled blisters.

The extreme form of photo-sensitivity occurs rarely, and most often in children. It has been speculated that this may have been the basis for at least part of our current "vampire lore," as children afflicted with this allergy become virtual day-time shut-ins. Any exposure to sunlight can cause severe burning of the exposed skin, blindness, and acute allergic reaction.

Red food coloring (and green food coloring) - this, too is a fairly common allergy. Ingesting either food coloring can cause hives, flushing of the skin and itching particularly on the stomach and flanks. Do you have any idea how many foods and beverages contain red coloring?

Try reading some labels at your local supermarket. You will find it enlightening. Here's a short list - cherry cake mix; some flavors of Jello; most red-colored pops, juices or reconstituted fruit drinks; some flavored coffees; many products containing chocolate; some kinds of chocolate; many processed meats including bologna and wieners; strawberry ice cream; many cookies; anything pink or red in color that has the word "color" in its list of ingredients; some blended scotch whiskeys...

Lovely colours - look but don't eat
Lovely colours - look but don't eat | Source

Common Allergens

Nuts are one major allergy causing food. The incidence of nut allergies is almost epidemic in young and school-age children. Conventional wisdom used to say don't feed nuts or nut products 'til your child reaches at least the age of two.

Now, doctors and immunologists are suggesting we should be introducing these foods much sooner, and that withholding them is leading to more allergies than if we had gone ahead and let baby have a peanut butter sandwich as soon as they're able to chew.

It will probably take a few more years and trials to sort it out. In the meantime, I buy nut-free candies for giving out on Halloween.


More Common Allergens

Cinnamon, summer savory, and oregano - I have met others who have similar problems with these and other herbs and seasonings. You will remember I mentioned that I can and do enjoy apple pie? Well, try finding any commercially prepared form of this product that doesn't contain cinnamon. As far as dining out goes, apple pie is still on my forbidden list. So is dining in an Italian restaurants for the most part.

Onions - green, red, white, yellow, purple, sharp or sweet - all raw onions...and yes, even if you pick them out, they have touched the other food. Traces of the juice is still there and it will make me ill - even if I can't taste it, and I don't know you chopped the onions with the same knife you then used for the peppers, celery and tomatoes.

I cook with onions all the time - the secret for my health is to cook them thoroughly. My daughter-in-law is the exact opposite - cooked onions are "deadly poison", but she loves them raw.

Citrus Fruits, Pineapple, and most varieties of Apples - this is not quite so common, especially the apple allergy - who could be allergic to apples?

In my case, this only applies to fresh forms of these foods - canned fruit seems to be acceptable. It may have something to do with the processing, which often exposes the fruit enzymes to heat. Cooked forms of the fruits, especially apple pie and apple sauce -Thank goodness! - as well as some preserves such as canned mandarin oranges and canned pineapple cause no reaction.

Milk and most milk products - Lactose intolerance is becoming more and more common in developed countries, and is caused by the sufferer's inability to digest lactose, an enzyme that occurs naturally in milk.

This can cause bloating, gas, painful cramping, upset stomach. I am very fortunate as I am able to tolerate cooked milk products, so I can still enjoy a creme caramel, but a yummy, ice-cold, chocolate milkshake will put me out of commission for several hours. Many find relief with an over-the-counter products, or specially treated milk in which the enzyme has been modified with heat treatment.

Lactose Intolerance or Milk Allergy

Fragrances Can Be Problematic

Scents, fragrances, perfumes, perfumed lotions and potions, some hair sprays, many scented bath products, scented dryer sheets, some laundry get the idea. Allergies to scent is amazingly widespread, and can be very selective. One scent or line of products may set you off where another will provoke no reaction at all.

I love perfume and scented bath products! I just can't live with most of them - the sneezing, itching, watery eyes, scratchy throat and general malaise that follows just isn't worth it. Fortunately for me, and for thousands like me who are similarly affected, public awareness of scent allergies is on the rise. Unscented versions of our favorite laundry products are now generally available.

Most Interview Preparation instruction now includes a little blurb on scent allergies, encouraging the job seeker to go scentless to their interview, just in case.

Often this courtesy isn't extended to the work place. I remember one colleague who would retreat to the far side of the room, or to the ladies room to refresh her perfume, then re-emerge into our common work-space wafting a cloud of scent in her wake. She appreciated that I am allergic, and always went into the other room to refresh her scent. But it didn't seem to occur to her that wearing the scent near me was just as likely to provoke an allergic reaction as spraying it in the room.

Beautiful Scented Bath Gels

I can feel the itch starting already...
I can feel the itch starting already... | Source

A Quick Poll...

Do You Have Allergies or Sensitivities?

See results

To Sum Up...

This is by no means the complete list, but I find, like many other allergy sufferers, the hardest part of having sensitivities and allergies is having them taken seriously.

Having to say that a particular food or seasoning made me ill was uncomfortable at first - like admitting to a weakness, almost. My family is well aware of which foods or seasonings I must avoid ingesting, but I felt a bit silly at first, asking for concessions to my new dietary needs. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my sisters have developed adult on-set allergies, so we all look out for each other, but it can be difficult at times to remember everything to avoid.

Dining out can be more problematic. On the whole, I find it simpler to say, "I am allergic to...", rather having to explain degrees of severity. Nowadays we are more enlightened towards allergies, particularly in children, and the word "allergy" usually commands more respect and consideration from both your server and the kitchen.

I am far more fortunate than a lot of allergy sufferers, as most of my food sensitivities are not life-threatening. True, they can make me very ill, and I have sometimes felt death would be preferable to further suffering, but, on the whole, I am fairly lucky.

Others are not, but we all need to be more aware of what we are putting into and onto our bodies. One rule of thumb states if you can't pronounce it and it has more than ten letters, it probably isn't anything Mother Nature ever thought of, and you better think twice before throwing it in your cart.

And always, always follow these simple steps:

  1. Read the labels

  2. Read the labels

  3. Read the labels

More From The Hubmob

© 2009 RedElf


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    • profile image

      Allaiyah 5 years ago

      My mom developed an allergy to watermelon in her 40s & an allergy to apples in her 50s.

    • Mayashappyplace profile image

      Maya Marcotte 5 years ago from NY

      I am a food allergy activist and have multiple food allergies, environmental allergies and chemical/contact dermatitis allergies. I also have heat sensitivity (heat urticaria) which is very similar to sun allergy. Its nice to meet you and I look forward to reading more of your hubs! =)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      You are most welcome, wwolfs. It certainly sounds like you have some sensitivities, but hopefully you will be able to avoid those things with a little care. Nice to meet you.

    • profile image

      wwolfs 6 years ago

      I didn't know of any allergies as a child but now find I have an occasional allergic reaction breaking out in itchy, red welts to certain foods or an insect bite. At first I didn't know what was causing this but have since figured out it most likely is an allergic reaction of some sort. Always thought if you didn't have allergies as a child you wouldn't have them as an adult. Interesting article with a lot of information. Thanks for sharing!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      My dad is allergic to cucumbers, so much so that if the knife or cutting board used for the cucumbers is used for the rest of the vegetables, he will become ill. If the cucumbers have been placed in the salad and then removed, that will be enough to trigger his allergies.

      That might be what is happening in the kitchen where his food is prepared, however he could be developing sensitivities to other foods, as is often the course.

    • profile image

      bizymom 6 years ago

      My 20-year old son has developed food allergies this past year. Now that he is back at college, he is feeling very insecure about every meal that he eats. He often feels some kind of reaction to each meal; I know it's really beginning to wear on him emotionally. I've encouraged him to keep track of what he eats and how he feels afterward, to try to narrow down what might be the causes. Testing by an allergist this summer showed allergies to apples and tree nuts, but it seems like there must be more developing as he avoids these items and still feels reactions after most meals. It's hard being so far away and not able to help more as he struggles with this!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Unfortunately, that's not an unusual occurrence. Many allergy clusters can be triggered by a simple thing like getting your ears pierced. Sometimes, using a certain product will sensitize your body, setting off a chain reaction, just like what happened to you. Once your immune system is sensitized, as you found out, all sorts of "interesting" things pop up.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      In 2002 I used a tanning lotion that I had a bad reaction to and it started a chain of events that I am just now getting control over. I started becoming allergic to everything I took and I have to believe that one incident triggered it all! Also I found out the shot they gave me to make me feel better instantly had some bad side effects and it was way too late when I found out. Great informative hub!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, J Yoder. The worst things about adult-onset allergies is that you will never grow out of them and never enjoy those forbidden foods again!

    • profile image

      J Yoder 6 years ago

      Great hub, Red. I too, developed a HOST of allergies as an adult. I believe I had some of them as a kid, but because I never had a huge reaction it was not obvious. Mine became obvious after I got married and moved into a hundred year old farm house, that had mold and lots of dust.

      I can definitely relate to what you said about feeling foolish to admit you can't eat certain foods. It is especially hard when it is something you always loved - like eggs and ice-cream. :( My sympathies to anyone who faces allergies.

      Well written!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      You can try searching for such groups on Google or Bing as a starting point, spiritgirl32. You can also check with a local Health Clinic, or State Health Authority. You might want to completely avoid any processed foods, which often contain traces of oat, corn, and nuts or nut products. You don't say if you can tolerate red meat or poultry, but it sounds like you should be sticking to FRESH food - fruit and veggies - in the meantime. Perhaps some Fresh Food or Vegan sites or groups could be helpful.

    • profile image

      spiritgrl32 6 years ago

      Is there any adult food allergy support groups in the Indianapolis area? In the past few years I have developed food allergies to dairy, crab, oat,corn, and mustard and now in the past few weeks it's gone to tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and egg. It is so hard to find foods that are completely allergen free for me!!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks, Gonzo - that's too bad. I really love cherries, and plums are right up there, too. At least you can eat preserved, canned, or dried fruit?

    • profile image

      Gonzo 6 years ago

      Last year i became allergic to plums, peaches, cherries and apples. My throat becomes extremely itchy and closes a little. Only with raw fruit though. Thanks for the info.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, jamiesweeney!

    • jamiesweeney profile image

      jamiesweeney 6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Great information, great share.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      You are most welcome, Ninja - thanks so much for stopping by to comment!

    • FOREX NINJA profile image

      FOREX NINJA 7 years ago

      Wow,excellent and great information shared in here.I quite enjoyed and gained a lot from reading this educative hub of yours which was well shared.Thanks for sharing.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      My goodness, you have certainly had some problems with allergies, Rd! I hope things begin to turn around for you - sounds like you keep a good sense of humor about life, though. :D:D:D

    • profile image

      Rd 7 years ago

      I have been sick since i was born. Symptoms grew worse until hospitalized.

      I have had many medical tests,seen many doctors. Most of my test results point to celiac. I finally decided to see my sister's allergist. I believe some things are genetic because my sister and i didn't have the same environment while growing up.

      I have wheat,potato,peanut allergy. seasonal,sensitivities and some food cross-reactive

      intolerances.The asthma seems to be increasing over the years.

      The good thing is my colon and organs look great as the doctors say. something is just not functioning properly.

      Possible gallbladder function. the actual cause of allergies sometimes is idiopathic.

      I get relief from avoiding things that make me sick and sometimes the right foods are my best medicine.

      My son has multiple food allergies.Most of those foods he didn't like to eat.Smart kid ;)

      My conclusion is simply i am suffering from the "human condition" :) laughter is another good medicine.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Too, true Joyce, but a little splash of lime seems to work well. :D

    • Joyce F profile image

      Joyce F 7 years ago from USA

      Informative hub. I was so shocked when I developed adult onset food allergies. Some people I know have found relief by drinking warm lemon water each morning. It reduces the reaction. (1/2 fresh lemon squeezed into warm water) I guess this wouldn't work too well for those with a citrus allergy :-).

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, Glen. I shall def stop by!

    • Glen619 profile image

      Glen619 7 years ago from Camden, New Jersey

      Useful info i write about nutrition education so have an insight about various nutritional facts. Good work with your Hub

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Some of our modified foods are great, but not everyone's systems can handle the modifications - makes ya think, doesn't it?!

    • dawnM profile image

      Dawn Michael 7 years ago from THOUSAND OAKS

      I would have to agree to that redelf, I dont remember the food grwoing up having so many additives, and man made fruits and veges. Watermelon used to have seeds now for some reason the seedless watermelon when I eat it makes my through it. Very interesting point!!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      dawnM, I am beginning to wonder if allergies were always this common, or are a result of food additives, rising pollution, or some such factors.

    • dawnM profile image

      Dawn Michael 7 years ago from THOUSAND OAKS

      great information, and yes I have developed food allergies as an adult, there are certain foods that I can no longer eat because my tongue will get bumps on it or the back of my throught starts to itch.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, infonolan

      infonolan 5 hours ago

      Thanks for the hub. Very interesting and informative. I have Coeliac Disease, which is like an allergy to gluten-containing cereals. It is so underestimated by not only other individuals but also businesses that serve foods labelled 'gluten free' when they may contain traces of gluten

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, frogyfish. Happy to share...looks like lots of us have allergies :(

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 8 years ago from Central United States of America

      Great info here, RedElf. I have mostly mold/pollen allergies - mild :-( ? Have family who have had severe response to chemicals and molds. I was surprised at your poll vote - looks like 'everybody' has allergy problems. Thanks for sharing your info!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Welcome, arisel. Thanks for your comments.

    • arisel profile image

      arisel 8 years ago from Honolulu Hawai

      gret information my friend thanks for be my fan

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      So glad I was able to help. Hopefully it will be poison ivy, lol.

    • BJC profile image

      BJC 8 years ago from Florida

      Found your hub as I was looking for something else. Great hub, as I write this I am not sure if I'm allergic to something or if it's poison ivy. I'm in the process of figuring it out.

      Thanks for the great info.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for your comments, Waren E. Contact me directly about your book idea - thanks!

    • Waren E profile image

      Waren E 8 years ago from HAS LEFT THE BUILDING............

      I read somewhere that most food allergies and allergic reactions to things in nature happens when the liver and colon is in fact overloaded with toxins!This kinda makes sense because at one time in the life of those suffering from allergies they lived completely normal allergy free lives!I think I'll make a PDF book of this hub,great hub RedElf!:)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Not much fun, I agree, aslanlight. Thanks for your comments.

    • aslanlight profile image

      aslanlight 8 years ago from England

      I empathise because I suffer from numerous adult onset allergies!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, Natalie. It can be interesting trying to avoid some things, LOL. Mostly I try to ignore them as much as possible and just eat healthy and unprocessed foods.

    • profile image

      Natalie Marie 8 years ago

      Wow - great hub! I have allergies to pollen and dust, am lactose intolerant, and am allergic to several antibiotics. While this is bad, I still can't imagine being allergic to sunshine! Or cinnamon! Or even antihistamines themselves...yikes. And I agree - the more unnatural something sounds, the more likely I am inclined to stay away from it.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      I hear you, Enelle. Both my son and his wife have allergies, too, and it's sure no fun ;)

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      I have suffered from allergies all my life - it was a relief when my family started developing sensitivities later in life - they discovered how I had been feeling for years and were much more supportive and tolerant LOL Ahh...vindication LOL

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks, FP. Most of the time I just ignore them (within reason). It is a pain sometimes, though.

      Red ;)

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      My sympathies RE - I imagine it must be really difficult living with so many allergies.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Greetings, UV. Isn't it amazing - I don't recall being allergic to anything as a child! ...and isn't odd what we develop sensitivities to? I really wish people would be a little more sensitive to others before drenching themselves in their favorite scents. So glad you can still enjoy chocolate - me too!

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Excellent hub. I have developed a slight allergy to the sun also. It only happens in the first days of sitting out in the sun during the summer but I break out in little bumps all over. I also seem to have developed an allergy to soy milk. I can eat soy in products but there is something about soy milk that does not agree with my body. And, I am also lactose intolerant now and can only drink skim milk. Luckily I can still eat chocolate :) And...I am very allergic to strong perfume, it can give me terrible headaches. Thankfully, my workplace does not allow strong scents although occasionally you do get a whiff.


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