Ah, fall in Wisconsin. The air cools down, breeze picks up, the leaves turn colors, and the allergens come out to play.
This never used to be a problem for me. While each year my mom and younger brother broke out the antihistamines, I could tell you quite confidently that I was allergic to nothing except pesky bee stings for 25 years. But I think with all the sneezing and itching I did earlier this week as the nights grew chilly and ragweed pollen levels grew high, I might have to accept that I’m living in denial.
In hindsight, this denial likely started roughly five years ago. I got what I claimed was an end of summer cold that turned into an awful sinus infection that sent me to my local doctor’s office for a round of antibiotics.
Each year after that saw a recurrence of the same cold and sinus infection, leaving me sick for a week each fall and each spring until my doctor suggested I might try taking some allergy medication at the first sign of any symptoms. Allergy medication? But I wasn’t allergic to anything. I assured him that was simply impossible.
This year, it started after the weather forecast predicted warm days and cool nights last week, which apparently are ideal conditions for the spread of ragweed. At the same time, my symptoms started with an itchy nose and some uncontrollable sneezing last weekend. As my nose started to run and my eyes started to water, none of the typical cold symptoms appeared. I caved and picked up some allergy medicine at the drug store. Amazingly enough, taking it stopped my symptoms from getting worse and started me on the path to feeling better. There’s no denying it. I’ve got seasonal allergies.
It’s unclear exactly how many people develop allergies when they reach adulthood, although a 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal said one study showed 40 percent of a group of college freshmen developed allergies within 20 years, with half of those developing allergies while still college students.
We don’t know a lot about allergies, but we do know allergic reactions are caused when the immune system decides certain substances are harmful and need to be attacked, despite all evidence to the contrary. That questionable decision by the immune system triggers reactions from sneezes and rashes to full-blown anaphylaxis, yet it has become increasingly common over the years.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children have allergies, with 16.9 million adults and 6.7 million children diagnosed in the last year.
Research shows that allergies are largely genetic, so I shouldn’t be too surprised to have picked them up in the past few years, but I’m still pretty bitter about it. Something about my immune system betraying me and deciding harmless items are bad for me makes me feel like I’m getting old.
Although the adult-onset version of allergies can be caused by a number of things, including an increase in exposure to allergens or hormonal changes, immunologists say that my feelings are grounded in reality, with an article in Everyday Health claiming that the immune system gets weaker as we grow older.