Why am I now allergic to spring time?
May 11, 2011 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Can I have acquired an allergy from excessive exposure to some plant? I used to do lab work involving grinding up bits of trees and grasses into fine powders for isotopic analysis. I never noticed any seasonal allergies before I worked in the lab, now I'm a wreck every spring. Causality or merely coincidence?

The room in which I did all the grinding had really poor ventilation and the dust would hang in the air once I was finished. While I did wear a N95 dust mask, after a few months I started to notice that my sinuses would clog up and my eyes would get all itchy when I used the grinder. It seemed pretty clear that I was allergic to something I was grinding, but I couldn't decide if I had a mild allergy already that I didn't know about and it was the extreme concentration of allergens in the room that was causing it all, or something else. Since then I now have springtime allergies that I never had before.

To boil it down:
(a) How to allergies work (roughly, for idiots)?
(b) Can one acquire them as an adult?
posted by selenized to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(b.) absolutely. Scientists who work with mice frequently develop allergies to them. My institution surveys rodent users every year to track this.
posted by juliapangolin at 1:17 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

juliapangolin that makes me feel better, my old boss was adamant that this couldn't happen and suspicious of how I didn't have allergies before (I think she thought I was making it up to avoid grinding things)
posted by selenized at 1:27 PM on May 11, 2011

I just listened to a few-year-old Science Friday podcast a few weeks back that happened to be on allergies. They had two (or maybe three?) allergists on there talking about seasonal allergies and the like, and they mentioned that allergies can in fact form over time. Two examples they mentioned (and I remember):

- People with dogs will frequently develop allergies to their dogs after a few years despite having no allergies for the first few years.
- Foreign exchange students will develop allergies to various plants and the like after being here (in the United States) for a few years.

As far as how allergies work, from what I understand: your body creates anti-bodies whenever the pollen (or whatever) gets in your body. The more you are exposed, the more anti-bodies your body creates, and the more violent the reaction becomes.

Anyway, hopefully someone else will give you some links to some scientific studies (or the like), but my understanding is that yes, you can (and do) develop allergies over time.
posted by StarmanDXE at 1:31 PM on May 11, 2011

I have developed allergies as an adult and they've gotten worse over time. I actually get prescription medications for it now.
posted by tommasz at 3:22 PM on May 11, 2011

Your boss was surprisingly ignorant for a biologist.

You can catch cold through your eyes, and develop allergies too, no doubt.

You should have been wearing goggles.
posted by jamjam at 3:35 PM on May 11, 2011

jamjam: She wasn't a biologist, she was a chemical technologist.

Obviously I wore goggles, but they were aimed more for keeping large physical chunks of stuff from impacting my eyes. I never would have thought of getting sick through my eyes. (something to add to future safety documents).
posted by selenized at 4:22 PM on May 11, 2011

Now that I posted it that reads as more snide than I intended....
posted by selenized at 4:25 PM on May 11, 2011

I used to not have seasonal allergies, and now I do. I think this is just something that can happen, regardless of career path.
posted by Sara C. at 4:50 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Another data point: never had allergies growing up in Southern CA, nor for the first 15+ years that I lived in Western WA, but started getting them last spring. (This year I may have compounded them with a sinus infection! Fun!)
posted by epersonae at 5:36 PM on May 11, 2011

My understanding is that to develop an allergy to something, you have to have been exposed to it (and depending upon how allergic you are, it may take only take one exposure or it could take several). This is kinda anecdotal and therefore not scientific, but I have a lot of allergies. When I finally was tested, I tested positive for pretty much everything including horses. The doctor asked if I'd grown up around horses and in fact I had not, I'd only been horseback riding once, about 9 years prior to the test. The way he phrased the question and response made it sound like for me to have even come up with a positive response on the test, I would have had to have prior exposure to horses.

Second bit of anecdotal evidence, in Austin, TX, where I lived for 2.5 year, it was fairly common for people to develop a pretty severe allergy to the cedar trees (it really hit most people who had a problem with it like the flu; felt much worse then a traditional allergy). To my knowledge and in my own experience it never hit the first year there, but came on in full force during the second or third year.
posted by kaybdc at 7:36 PM on May 11, 2011

This could be coincidence. I never had seasonal allergies until I was ~30, then wham! That lasted ~20 years, gradually getting less & less. Now I don't have them any more.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:54 PM on May 11, 2011

I grew up with dogs in the house. I went off to college and when I came home I was allergic to dogs. Still am. That as 20 years ago.
posted by thatguyjeff at 7:21 AM on May 12, 2011

Used to have seasonal allergies in the UK. When I moved here they stopped for the first several years, then crept back. My doctor says it's because at first you don't have much of an immune response to the new flora, but it gradually gets more robust until you notice it.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 8:24 AM on May 12, 2011

Now that I read more comments my rationale for blaming by boss is becoming less cut and dry.

I think what is muddying the waters for my particular case is that I was analyzing the local flora. Since I've lived in northern alberta virtually my entire life it seems plausible that I'm experiencing something like what HiroProtagonist or Sara C. did, that is I would have just developed them regardless of lab work.

Which is a shame 'cause I would like to craft a pretty epic workers comp. claim.
posted by selenized at 1:22 PM on May 12, 2011

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