Growing Old, Growing Food Allergies

Seniors talking and smiling around a dinner table

Growing old is not always easy, but understanding how your body changes is half the battle. With a projected statistic of over 80 million adults being aged 65 or older by 2050, the geriatric population is surely on the rise. For this population, and those who will care for them, there are many things to keep a close eye on as people age. More aches and pains, bodies slowing down, a more sedentary lifestyle and oh yeah, more food allergies.

Yes, that is correct, in fact, as people age so do their immune systems.  And with that comes an increase in the chances of developing food allergies.

Why the Elderly are Susceptible

The body’s immune system, responsible for keeping a person healthy, undergoes many changes as they grow older. And as a person’s immune system starts to age, changes occur in the various cell types of the immune system. The changes that occur can decrease the person's awareness and onset of physical symptoms of a food allergy and ultimately will delay the person seeking medical help. Dysfunction within the immune system cells can also result in the development of a new food allergy. Thus, food allergies are of great concern as the population ages in mass proportions.

The elderly are also susceptible to developing food allergies as they experience a decrease in stomach acid and an age-related decrease in total serum immunoglobulin E.

This population then faces a greater chance for increased exposure to absorbed allergens, which is related to the development of food allergies.

The Prevalence of Food Allergies in the Elderly

At the present time, the prevalence of food allergies in the geriatric population is about 8% but many believe it is underestimated and underdiagnosed.

Without being properly diagnosed, many people do not get the treatment they need and never really understand how to manage their food allergies.

Diagnosing Food Allergies in Seniors

Diagnosing food allergies is often made more difficult with seniors, as many have also developed other medical issues as they age. Many seniors experience malnutrition, as their appetite and digestive system both slow down. As one becomes somewhat malnourished, their immune system can become further compromised. Nutrient deficiencies, such as that of vitamin D, zinc, and iron, are of greatest concern. For these reasons, it is most important that the geriatric population is properly educated about the importance of supplementing with vitamins and minerals as needed to maintain a healthy immune system.

The food allergy symptoms experienced by the geriatric population are similar to those found in others with food allergies. They can range from mild to severe, and include such things as rashes, stomach upset, itchy throats, nausea, vomiting, stuffy nose, dizziness among other symptoms.

A person who finds that their heart is racing, their throat feels tight and might be experiencing anaphylaxis should seek immediate medical attention. It is important to keep in mind that due to the cell changes within the immune system, an elderly person may not recognize or report these symptoms right away. For this reason, the caretakers need to be aware of any adverse reaction to foods and take the necessary precautions. And despite the fact that there may be other medical issues going on at the same time, potential food allergy symptoms should not be ignored.


As in the case with food allergies at any age, the course of treatment after diagnosis is to eliminate that food from the diet. Both the person with the allergy and their caretaker(s) should be educated on eliminating this food allergen in its entirety. It is important to remove and replace items from home and be sure to label food items very clearly for those who are still living independently. Additionally, a thorough review of the seniors diet should be addressed so that deficiencies do not occur once the food allergen is removed from the diet.

Taking the time to learn about what it means to grow old, can make all the difference in growing out gracefully. And keep in mind that even at the ripe old age of 80, food allergies can sneak up on you!

Continue Reading