Picture this: you’ve concluded your Thanksgiving smorgasbord with a slice of delicious pecan pie. But as you sit down for the final leg of the day’s football tripleheader, you notice you’re nauseated, short of breath, and breaking out in hives—and it has nothing to do with your investment in the game’s outcome. Suddenly, your mood is not one of gratitude and contentment but of panic, for it appears that you’ve developed a new allergy to tree nuts.
Usually, food allergies manifest themselves early in life—if you’re allergic to peanuts, it doesn’t take long to find out the hard way. However, in some instances, people may develop these allergies as adults, which can mean significant changes in diet and routine. There is still no consensus on what causes food allergies in adulthood, but allergists have some ideas of what may trigger these reactions.
Food and Pollen: A Mistaken Identity
Some adult-onset food allergies arise from preexisting allergies to pollen, one of the most common environmental allergens. With the body already on high alert for pollen and anything resembling it, an overzealous immune system can become even more hypervigilant and mistake proteins in fruits and vegetables for pollen. This can cause a mild to moderate allergic reaction, which doctors refer to as oral allergy syndrome. It most commonly occurs as a misidentification of birch tree pollen, manifesting itself in allergic reactions to fresh fruits. Frustratingly, this allergy may not reveal itself until later in life.
Changes in Digestion
As you age, the way your body digests its food changes. Dietary and lifestyle changes can lead to the stomach producing less gastric acid. When this happens, it becomes harder for the digestive system to break down the food you eat. Some doctors believe insufficient digestion of foods such as tree nuts and shellfish could cause the immune system to misidentify food as pathogens, causing allergic reactions.
Addressing Adult-Onset Food Allergies
After the emergency subsides, it can be frustrating to discover that you were not fully out of the woods with regard to food allergies once you made it to adulthood. Changes in the immune and digestive systems can cause food allergies in adulthood that will change the way you eat. Suddenly becoming unable to tolerate eggs, soy, or nuts will mean you have to become extremely mindful of the foods you encounter. To preempt further emergencies, you should pursue allergy treatment with a doctor who can tell you which substances your body is misidentifying as grave threats. A battery of injections will let you know where your old and new sensitivities lie.