When people think about food allergies, they tend to think about children being allergic to nuts or cow’s milk. However, Cincinnati elder care agencies see firsthand that food allergies are a real and growing concern among the elderly population.
An estimated five to ten percent of seniors have food allergies. There are several factors contributing to the onset of food allergies in seniors. One is the alteration of the digestive tract that exposes a senior’s body to undigested proteins from food. Another factor is dysregulation of the immune system due to aging, causing an inappropriate reaction to food proteins and leading to the development of a food allergy. A third factor is malnutrition. Many seniors eat diets lacking essential nutrients and rarely go outside, leading to deficiencies in vitamin D, zinc, and iron, which can further contribute to immune system dysregulation.
Common Foods That Elicit Allergic Reactions
Ninety percent of food allergies are due to cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, shellfish, tree nuts, and wheat gluten. Celiac disease (allergy to wheat gluten) is a common type of late-onset allergy in the elderly, and it can lead to serious problems, including malnutrition.
The classic symptom of a severe food allergy is anaphylaxis, a medical emergency. However, anaphylaxis is rarely experienced by seniors. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, hives, wheezing, and coughing. Symptoms usually occur within minutes of exposure to the food. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea and weight loss.
Experts urge seniors not to self-diagnose food allergies. In the general population, around 30 percent of individuals have self-diagnosed themselves with a food allergy, but testing reveals that only five percent actually have a food allergy. Individuals who mistakenly diagnose themselves may end up eating an inadequate diet and may overlook the actual cause of their symptoms.
The best treatment for food allergies is to simply avoid the offending food. Individuals who have experienced anaphylactic shock should keep an EpiPen nearby at all times and should inform part-time and live-in caregivers and friends about their condition and the existence and location of the EpiPen.
If your senior loved one could use help managing food allergies or other health concerns, turn to Home Care Assistance. Our experienced and friendly Cincinnati caregivers can grocery shop, prepare healthy meals that meet dietary restrictions, offer medication reminders, and assist with other daily activities. To learn more, call our office at 513.891.2273 today.