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Genetics mainly to blame for onset of allergic reactions in adulthood

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For some unlucky people, allergies suddenly hit full force during adulthood. The Wall Street Journal spoke with immunologist James Sublett, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, to find out why it can take years for allergic reactions to start.

It's mostly genetic, Sublett says, and if your mom or dad had allergies, you'll likely have them as well. Often, exposure to allergens like dust mites, mold, and pollen will build over time and reach a critical mass in adulthood, leading to such reactions as watery eyes and a runny nose. Hormonal changes — including pregnancy and menopause — can set off allergies, and so can the process of aging, which causes the immune system to become more sensitive. Even common colds can trigger allergies in a person with a genetic predisposition.

Want to get rid of your allergies? Sublett suggests a change of climate, or (sadly) getting rid of a furry friend whose dander might be causing your suffering. Don't get too excited at the idea of picking up and moving to Hawaii, though; you can always develop an allergy to new types of pollen. "We see that sort of up and down throughout life all the time," Sublett told The Wall Street Journal.