No more cats or coffee for me
June 23, 2012 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to develop allergies or food intolerances as you get older, if you've never had a problem with them previously?

There may be a straight forward answer to this, but is it possible to develop an allergy or intolerance to a food or item you've never had a problem with before?

I'm in my early twenties and the last 6 - 12 months have noticed that I'm becoming allergic to the cat at home, and intolerant to milk. I've never had an issue with cats before and have lived with this cat for nearly 2 years without problem, but lately when he's close to me (as in snuggled up to me or on my bed) I start sneezing a lot, sinuses kick in and the eyes go itchy. It's bearable and goes away after a while but just weird (I'll add it's only this cat too, doesn't happen with other friends' cats, he's a Siamese if this matters).
I also now can't drink milk without feeling ill - again never an issue growing up, I loved it, but now after a cup of coffee or bowl of cereal etc I'm left feeling bloated then not long after have to rush to the toilet.

YANAD and these aren't so serious that I feel the need to see a doctor, I just avoid them, but am still curious if you can develop intolerances as you grow older? (sorry this is so long winded!)
posted by sunshine arakhan to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. I developed some mild allergies in my 30s. Know lots of people who became lactose intolerant later in life too.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:04 AM on June 23, 2012

Yes, of course. I never used to have a problem with dairy, but now it wrecks me. And now I'm violently allergic to tree pollen ("Trees are your enemy!" my allergist told me) whereas they never bothered me for the first 35 years of my life. I have a friend who is deathly allergic to garlic, and that allergy has only grown worse with time. These sorts of things seem to be common.
posted by jdroth at 4:06 AM on June 23, 2012

I had vegemite on toast for breakfast, sandwiches/rolls for lunch, and pizza/pasta/gluten-ish stuff for dinner for the first 38 years of my life.

Then suddenly I couldn't eat any of it, unless I wanted to spend my day either on the toilet or kneeling in front of it.

Yes, food intolerances can develop as you age. (Dammit. I miss my vegemite on toast. I can substitute horrid gluten-free bread for the toast, but there is no gluten-free substitute for vegemite.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:19 AM on June 23, 2012

The answer is yes. And as you leave your twenties and get a few more years on you, you'll be amazed at how your body can betray you. You'll often think "hey! I never ____ before! What the....what?!"
posted by vitabellosi at 4:33 AM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yes: another testifier here. Apparently now I'm allergic to wheat, soy & peanuts, they make me cough. I did not have this problem as a kid; I'm sure I would have noticed. I also went 3 mysterious & hellish months reacting violently (think cracked rib) to tea, citrus, apples, beef, carrots, rice, & just about anything else that wasn't broccoli or chicken. They did a bubble test on me & it looked like a damn octopus had hugged my arm. Thank GOD that cleared up. No explanation. Bodies are weird.
posted by Ys at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2012

Absolutely, and my allergist here in Japan recent explained that there is a connection between shifts in our hormone, enzyme, and immune resistance levels to our allergies. The saddest thing about developing an allergy to our beloved pets is that so many people treat the symptoms with OTC allergy meds, so they can continue to share their lives...but the long term usage of said meds often end up causing them intestinal disorders and liver function problems.

You should probably get a panel of tests run just to be sure; it's possible you are simply run-down in other ways that are heightening your sensitivities rather than developing a full-blown allergy.
posted by squasha at 5:23 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

As everyone else here has said, yes. You can develop bee sting and seafood allergies at nearly any time.

The good news is that an allergist can tell you for sure and that the tests, though perhaps a little uncomfortable, are pretty routine and give nearly immediate feedback, so maybe only one visit can give you the answers you seek.
posted by jquinby at 5:52 AM on June 23, 2012

Yes. I was mid-twenties when I developed a tree nut allergy.
posted by quodlibet at 6:02 AM on June 23, 2012

Yes. After years of eating hummus and tahina, I developed a rather severe allergy several years ago, in my mid-twenties. Severe enough that I had to go to the hospital for a reaction before I'd totally figured out how to manage it. I wouldn't say adult on-set allergies are typical, but they're not really abnormal either.
posted by emkelley at 6:03 AM on June 23, 2012


I was a kid who actually liked brocolli. Now, at 40, it gives me severe gastric distress.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 AM on June 23, 2012

Absolutely. Your body will change in response to aging. It's great fun! (not)

As for the kitty. I thought I was allergic to cats for most of my life. It turns out that I have severe grass and tree allergies. I only found this out with allergy testing.

Now we have two wonderful, indoor kitties and I spend a lot of time with my face buried in their fur.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2012

Dairy intolerance is mainly your body not making as much lactase enzyme as when you were an infant. It is normal development but more severe in some people. For that big bowl of ice cream, you can pop lactase as a capsule or chewable tablet. Keep the vitamin D coming in some form, maybe fortified orange juice. I switched to rice milk for cereal, coffee, etc. Soy milk is ok too but carries a tiny bit of estrogen you may not want.

Bummer about the possible cat allergy, but be sure to check for pollen that kitty might carry from outside (per Ruthless Bunny), or other fixable environmental concerns.

My experience is that aging can bring new allergies but you can also lose old allergies.
posted by gregoreo at 6:46 AM on June 23, 2012

Chalk me up too. I've gone from just being allergic to bees to being allergic to basically all biting insects, and have developed an allergy to cats and latex as well, not to mention certain fillers in cosmetics.
posted by Jilder at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2012

My mother was not allergic to cats for much of her life, and developed an allergy in her 40s. My husband has always had seasonal allergies, but suddenly developed a strong contact reaction to certain types of pine pollen just two years ago (he now breaks out in hives if he gets stuck with a pine needle, poor guy). My son was not allergic to peanuts, until he was, suddenly, at age 5 (which I know is a lot younger than you, but is actually still considered late-onset -- according to my allergist, usually peanut allergies develop between the ages of 1 and 2).

And it's super, super common for people to become more intolerant to lactose in milk as they age. Originally humans evolved to only be able to digest milk until age 4 or so (the age when most prehistoric kids stopped nursing); people of European descent, though thousands of years of eating a milk-heavy diet, have managed to evolve a longer period of tolerance, but lots of people start developing an intolerance at some point in adulthood when their bodies just stop making enough lactase (the enzyme that helps digest lactose).

My advice is to go see an allergist for a skin test to determine just how allergic you are now to cats, and get some advice on what medication / lifestyle changes might help you.

My husband is very allergic to cats, and I had one when we first moved in together, so I have some actually road-tested advice: if you can, get someone else to groom the cat regularly for you (brushing the cat will reduce shedding), cut down on carpet / random unnecessary fluffy things that trap cat hair in your house, don't let the cat sleep in your room, get allergen-proof covers for your mattress and pillows, and wash your sheets often. Always wash your hands after petting the cat, and be careful not to rub your eyes unless your hands are clean. If you can afford an air filter, that may also help.
posted by BlueJae at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2012

(Oh and you don't have to give up coffee just because you give up milk. There are sooo many alternatives to dairy milk now. Coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk . . . I am sure you will find one somewhere that taste okay in your coffee. If you can't, try Lactaid milk or straight-up heavy cream -- cream has significantly less lactose in it than milk, and you may be able to tolerate it if your intolerance is not bad.)
posted by BlueJae at 8:10 AM on June 23, 2012

Yep. My wife was sniffling and snuffling all spring long when she was about 25 and refused to listen when I said "You have allergies." Finally, I got sick of the sniffling and snuffling and dragged her to an allergist. Dust mites and seasonal allergies, sprang up out of nowhere.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:19 AM on June 23, 2012

Chiming in with another "yep." I've never been allergic to any medications in my entire life thus far (and I've taken many), so last fall when the ENT asked me "Are you allergic to penicillin?" I replied in the negative. He gave me a script for amoxicillin and on the third day of taking it I developed a red rash on my chest. Later that evening the rash had spread to my neck and upper arms and itched something fierce. The next day I looked like a giant swollen pinto bean and was going crazy from the incessant itch. Called the doctor, he said it's a reaction to the antibiotic and I whined that I wasn't allergic to any medicines. "You are now," he replied. "It happens."
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:14 AM on June 23, 2012

Another yep. I developed an intolerance to gluten and other complex carbs. I found a good book called Meals That Heal Inflammation by Julie Daniluk that explains how life long exposure to certain foods (e.g., wheat, dairy, etc.) can develop into allergies. She also discusses her own intolerances to certain foods after a serious bout of food poisoning. She suggests cutting out the problem foods for a good long while and then slowly introducing them back in to the diet to see if they are still offending.
posted by angelaas525 at 9:16 AM on June 23, 2012

You can develop an allergy to any self/foreign molecule at any point in your life as a result of the way our adaptive immune system works. Once sensitized to an allergen, whether a bee sting or pollen, you begin experiencing a varying level of allergic response.

Allergies can occur as a sensitization to multiple food/environmental products, such as an allergy to latex as well as avocado, bananas, and chestnuts.

You can go to any internist/allergist and get an evaluation, for example they can do a skin patch test for a specific type of immediate hypersensitivity for allergens from nickel to hair coloring.

Regarding your inability to drink milk, you may be having another issue but the simple guess would be a difficulty digesting lactose. GI infections, a change in intestinal flora, or simply in the reduction of milk intake can reduce your ability to properly digest lactose in milk. See if lactase pills help (which you can find at any pharmacy for reasonably cheap), and if they do, try taking probiotics or eating yogurt.
posted by palionex at 9:55 AM on June 23, 2012

It's apparently pretty normal to develop a degree of lactose intolerance as you get older and your body produces less lactase. I developed lactose intolerance last year, and while the milk in a bowl of cereal or serving of ice cream doesn't bother me, a glass of milk or too much cheese lead to stomach cramps and gas. Lactase pills keep me from having any symptoms when it comes to cheese or any other dairy-rich meals, and I can still digest yogurt just fine. If it won't make you too uncomfortable, I'd suggest doing some experimenting to see what amount of lactose your body can handle now, so you know what to avoid and when to take lactase pills.

Also, do any allergies run in your family? My family tends towards walnut and strawberry allergies, and while I didn't have any problems with walnuts when I was younger, I used a face scrub with walnut shell powder in it last year that I'd previously had no problems with and broke out in hives. Now I'm way more careful about both, since my brother's walnut allergy progressed from hives/itchiness to just shy of anaphylaxis after multiple exposures.
posted by yasaman at 11:17 AM on June 23, 2012

Yeah, totally! I know many of my friends fall into the category of later-in-life intolerances and allergies. I personally developed some intolerances and sensitivities to sugar, gluten, and certain processed oils after a bad bout of antibiotics in my early 20s. Hell, I'm even allergic to wool on a certain level. The human body is a weird thing to inhabit.
posted by Hello Darling at 1:02 PM on June 23, 2012

Absolutely. And it sucks. It's particularly common in people with auto-immune disorders.

My [non-medical] advice: try to figure out what's the root of it is, and don't rely solely on anti-histamines and lactose-intolerance pills. Something is making you become allergic. Most of the time, it's not big deal. Sometimes, it can be a very big deal.

If you live in a state that allows the sale of raw milk, give it a try. I haven't myself, but I read that there are certain enzymes present in raw milk from grass-fed cows that help people digest it better. Hence why there's much less lactose intolerance in Latin American countries than in the US.
posted by Neekee at 1:21 PM on June 23, 2012

Yes. Lactose, raw onions, dark colored beans, canned pineapple, perhaps others I haven't identified yet.

On the other hand, I only rarely have hay fever any more.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:42 PM on June 23, 2012

Yes. I have a friend who became allergic to Red #40 in her late 30s. Before that she'd eaten and drunk products containing that with no problems at all.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:21 PM on June 23, 2012

There is a syndrome called leaky gut where things penetrate your gut barrier directly into the bloodstream. My layman understanding of it is that by some mechanism, your gut leaks its content into the bloodstream. Your immune system is primed to attack anything that escapes from that area, which is then tagged as "foreign and objectionable" object forever more. It that is for example a piece of chicken, from then on, your body will have a heighten immune response to chicken allergy.

According to the wiki, understanding the role of the intestinal barrier in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal disease is an area of research that encompasses many fields and is currently receiving a great deal of attention
posted by 7life at 10:10 AM on June 25, 2012

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