Why Do Food Allergies Arise in the Senior Years?

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When people think about food allergies, they tend to think about children being allergic to nuts or cow’s milk. However, food allergies are a real and growing concern among the elderly population. Late-onset food allergies can cause symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening. Learn why food allergies suddenly appear in the senior years and how to help your senior loved one address the effects of a late-onset food allergy.

Late-Onset Allergies

An estimated five to ten percent of seniors have food allergies. There are several factors that can contribute to the onset of food allergies in seniors. One is an alteration in 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 don’t eat properly and rarely go outside their homes, leading to deficiencies in vitamin D, zinc, and iron, which can further contribute to immune system dysregulation.

Seniors can face a variety of challenges as they age, many of which can be mitigated with the help of professional in-home caregivers who provide high-quality senior home care. Trust Home Care Assistance to help your elderly loved one age in place safely and comfortably.

Common Foods that Elicit Allergic Reactions

Ninety percent of food allergies are related 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.

As a family caregiver, helping your loved one address food allergies can be an overwhelming task at times. Families who find it difficult to care for their aging loved ones without assistance can benefit greatly from professional respite care. West Hartford, CT, family caregivers who need a break from their caregiving duties can turn to Home Care Assistance. Using our proprietary Balanced Care Method, our respite caregivers can encourage your loved one to eat well, exercise regularly, get plenty of mental and social stimulation, and focus on other lifestyle factors that promote longevity.

Symptoms

The classic symptom of a severe food allergy is anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency. The signs of this life-threatening allergic reaction include severe breathing difficulty and swelling of the tongue, throat, or mouth. However, seniors rarely experience anaphylaxis. Instead, they usually have milder symptoms, such as 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.

Diagnosis

Experts urge seniors not to self-diagnose food allergies. In the general population, around 30 percent of individuals have self-diagnosed themselves with food allergies, but testing reveals only five percent actually have food allergies. Individuals who mistakenly diagnose themselves may end up eating an inadequate diet and overlook the actual cause of their symptoms.

Treatment

The best treatment for food allergies is to simply avoid the offending foods, although it’s possible for seniors to experience allergic reactions when exposed to even trace amounts of allergens. Be careful to ensure your loved one’s food doesn’t come into contact with anything that has touched something he or she is allergic to. For example, if your loved one is allergic to tomatoes, don’t cut his or her food with the same knife you use to chop tomatoes for your own meal. 

Mild allergic reactions are usually treated with over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines. However, as noted earlier, aging adults with late-onset allergies can experience serious reactions, including anaphylactic shock, which requires the administration of epinephrine, usually in the form of an EpiPen. Individuals who have experienced anaphylactic shock in the past should keep EpiPens nearby at all times, and they should inform their caregivers, family members, and friends about their allergies and where to locate their EpiPens.

A home caregiver can help your loved one prepare nutritious meals that suit specific dietary requirements. Families who need help caring for a senior loved one can turn to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of West Hartford homecare services. Services available in our customizable care plans include meal prep, mental and social stimulation, assistance with personal hygiene tasks, and much more. Call one of our friendly Care Managers today at (860) 372-4500 to learn more about our customized care plans.

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