Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Do I have an allergy?

Q. Is it possible to develop allergies later in life? I have started to notice a constant runny nose. I don't think I have been exposed to anything new.

A. It is possible to develop an allergy later in life, but a constant runny nose that is not associated with itchy eyes and sneezing is more likely due to something called nonallergic rhinitis. For reasons we don't fully understand, aging can bring changes in the lining of the nose and the response of its mucus-secreting glands to temperature, foods, and certain other stimuli. The result is constant dripping of a clear fluid.

There are additional clues that the runny nose is not caused by allergies. Nonallergic rhinitis symptoms often persist year round, may worsen after eating spicy foods or drinking alcohol, and may be triggered by exposure to cold. In contrast, allergies are more typically seasonal (spring and fall) or set off by exposure to dust or animal fur.

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