Some older adults might find their allergies getting worse with age. This is likely due to a decline in organ function and the development of long-term health conditions. Both of these can affect the incidence and severity of allergies.
An allergic response occurs when a person’s immune system has a hypersensitive reaction to a substance that does not usually produce this reaction in most individuals. These substances are called allergens.
Older adults are susceptible to the same allergens that can affect individuals of any age. These may include food, medications, insect bites, and environmental substances such as pollen. Allergic reactions can involve the skin or the respiratory system, which includes the lungs, nose, and breathing passages.
This article discusses how allergies may worsen with age, including the causes, types, and treatment.
Multiple factors contribute to the increased vulnerability of older adults to allergies. The authors of the review above explain that aging causes anatomical changes and a decline in the functioning of multiple organs, including the following:
People in this age group also tend to develop more chronic — or long-term — conditions, which may influence their response to an allergen.
These can include the following:
Until recently, doctors considered food allergy a condition that predominately affects children. However, the incidence in all ages is rising worldwide, affecting even older adults, according to a
The higher risk of food allergies in this age group stems from:
- atypical functioning of the immune system, which can result in elevated inflammation
- increased permeability in the intestinal tract, meaning more substances may pass from the intestines into the rest of the body
- negative changes in the gut microbiota, which can negatively affect the immune response and increase inflammation
- more deficiencies in antioxidants and nutrients the immune system needs for typical functioning
No adequate studies have determined the prevalence of drug allergies in older adults, but it is possible to estimate that it ranges from 0.6 to 2.1%. Some of these allergies are serious, as they comprise as much as 10% of fatal drug reactions.
The below factors underlie drug-related issues due to side effects, not allergies:
- more coexisting chronic conditions
- use of multiple prescription and over-the-counter medications that may interact
- memory difficulties
Hay fever and asthma
Symptoms of hay fever may include:
- runny nose
- nasal congestion
As people age, the skin loses hydration and becomes dry. According to
Triggers of skin reactions may include various substances, including:
- dust mites
The frequency of rashes in older adults is gradually rising as society ages.
Anaphylactic reactions can be
Still, anaphylaxis can affect people of all ages. Some symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- difficulty breathing
- fast heart rate
- swelling of the lips or face
As people age, they are less able to cope with anaphylaxis because of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as:
- high blood pressure
- high blood pressure medications that would hinder the actions of the body to counter the anaphylaxis
- irregular heartbeats
Treatment depends on the type of allergy but does pose a
Once a doctor diagnoses an allergy, co-occurring conditions and ongoing medications may limit treatment options. These factors can cause harmful effects on the allergy itself or lead to negative interactions with allergy medications. More research is necessary to determine optimal allergy treatment for older adults.
- immune function
- heart and lung function
- muscle strength
If an individual experiences symptoms of anaphylaxis, they should call 911 for emergency treatment.
As treating older adults for allergies presents difficulties, if a person experiences symptoms, they should consult a specialist. This can include speaking with an allergist or a dermatologist.
Someone’s primary care doctor may direct them to a specialist with the needed expertise.
Allergies getting worse with age is one of the difficulties that older adults may encounter. Older adults tend to have more chronic conditions and experience a decline in the functioning of several organs, both of which can heighten an allergic response.
Aging can potentially worsen any allergy, including hypersensitivities to food, medications, insect bites, and pollen.
Treatment options are more limited in older adults than in those who are younger, as allergy medications may negatively interact with ongoing medications. Such treatment may also have an adverse effect on existing chronic conditions.
A person with allergies may wish to consult a specialist, but someone with symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction should call 911.