Can Puberty Make Allergy Symptoms Worse?

Published: March 13, 2017

Q: My 12-year-old with legume allergies had only had mild reactions. Then recently she ate food that turned out to contain soy flour and experienced anaphylaxis. She has only recently hit puberty; could this have to do with hormonal changes?

Dr. Sharma: As your daughter’s case illustrates, food allergy reactions are unpredictable, and severe reactions can still occur even if all previous reactions have been mild.

There are several factors (called “co-factors) that might amplify the severity of a given food allergy reaction. These include: the amount of a food allergen that was consumed; whether the allergic person recently exercised; taking certain medications, such as NSAIDs; or consuming other foods or substances (for instance, alcohol) that might increase the risk of a severe reaction.

Hormones May Play a Role

In addition, it has been noted that adolescent girls and women may have a heightened risk of severe reaction related to their menstrual cycle, specifically during the premenstrual or ovulatory phases. Presumably, hormonal changes associated with these phases of the menstrual cycle can alter the threshold for a reaction.

Aside from these factors, age is also important, since severe reactions are found to be more common in teens and young adults.

That may be related to increased risk-taking, independence in decision-making, and peer pressure at this stage of life. I’d recommend the Allergic Living article “Food Allergy Meets the Teenage Brain” for more on the age considerations.

Dr. Sharma is an allergist, clinical researcher and associate professor of pediatrics. He is Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Director of the Food Allergy Program. He co-authors “The Food Allergy Experts” column in Allergic Living’s E-Magazine

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