If we were to sum up allergies with an emoji, it’d be a shrug. We know so little about them, and yet tens of millions of Americans experience allergies of some kind or another throughout their lives. They come. They go. They evolve slowly or shift rapidly. Perhaps the only constant is that they’re becoming more common.
But there is some positive news for allergy sufferers everywhere.
“The only good thing about getting older is that, in many cases, allergies are less prevalent,” says Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of NY and an allergy specialist at New York University. Changes inside and outside our bodies as we age affect the way we react to potential irritants from ragweed to crab to dogs. Why? Well, that’s a little more complicated, and there’s more than one possible reason that your allergy status just switched.
You outgrew it
Around 60 to 80 percent of kids with milk and egg allergies outgrow them by age 16. Only 20 percent of kids with peanut allergies do so, and only 14 percent of those allergic to tree nuts. Just 4 or 5 percent outgrow a shellfish allergy.
Why? Unfortunately, the answer is that we mostly have no idea. We know some general associations — the earlier a child has an adverse reaction to food, the more like they are to outgrow it — but scientists don’t yet understand why some kids age out of their reactions and others don’t. We do know that early exposure to small amounts of food allergens, especially peanuts, helps prevent allergies in the first place. But we have no idea how to actively reverse them once they happen. If you get allergies as a kid, you just have to wait and see if your tolerances change in the future.
One of the few things researchers have observed is that there does seem to be a time limit to ridding yourself of childhood allergies — if you haven’t outgrown an allergy by your teens, you’re likely to have it for life.