Food Allergies in the Elderly

Jun 10, 2016

Food Allergies in the Elderly

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It seems like there’s a ton of information online or in books about dealing with food allergies and children. Up until now, the elderly have often been overlooked when it comes to food allergies. But, it's projected that by 2050, more than 80 million adults will be aged 65 or older while another 20 million adults will be aged 85 or older. It’s also been discovered that many of the geriatric population will experience an aging of the immune system, causing food allergies to reveal themselves.

A study reported that 24.8% of geriatric nursing home patients (mean age of 77) were positive (skin test) for food allergens. It’s important to be aware of these allergies so you can identify, treat, and conquer them.

Common Allergies in the Elderly

Below, we've listed some of the most common allergies that you should be aware of as you or your loved one ages.

Peanuts/Tree Nuts

One of the most common allergies found in children, this allergy can appear later in life and can cause quite a problem. The symptoms range from a mild rash, to anaphylaxis, and can cause many other problems. 

Dairy Products

Another common allergy that can arise in the geriatric stage is a resistance to lactose. In this case, the stomach cannot break down this enzyme, essentially rejecting it. It often leads to various stomach and intestinal issues.


Yes, unfortunately, you might have to give up the bottle as time goes on. The body can sometimes begin to reject alcoholic properties, and this can cause a variety of problems. Similar to lactose, the immune system is no longer able to break down the alcohol and it can cause kidney, intestine, and stomach problems. 


Also known as Celiac disease, this recently discovered allergy would force a change in diet. Despite the unfortunate circumstance, a gluten-free diet also has a variety of health benefits.

Symptoms of Allergies in the Elderly

Below, we've listed some of the signs and symptoms of some of the allergies listed above. If you experience any of these symptoms it's important to see your doctor right away.

Allergic rhinitis

This is a combination of a variety of symptoms that allergies can cause. Things like sneezing, inflamed sinuses, and irritated eyes are among the symptoms that can appear in geriatric allergies. For the elderly, the persistence of these systems can lead to even more problems in the future.


The prevalence of asthma in the elderly in developed societies is estimated around 6-10%. With the elderly already susceptible to lung and throat issues, asthma can be a very serious matter. Allergic reactions can also cause anaphylaxis, or a closing of the windpipe. 

Skin Irritation

This can range from a common rash, easily medicated with lotion, to Hives and Eczema. Dry, red and itchy skin should be closely monitored and if it gets worse, a doctor should look it at.

Digestive Issues

Especially found in Gluten allergies, nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal trouble can become very serious if not treated. The stomach is essentially rejecting the food or enzyme, causing your body to react negatively. Monitoring your diet can greatly improve your stomach health.

Ways to Combat Allergies in the Elderly

Ask Questions

When in doubt, consult a doctor. These allergies can gradually appear. What you think is a common rash or sore throat might be a bigger issue. If you have allergies, ask questions when ordering at restaurants to make sure no allergens (peanut oil, gluten products) were used in the cooking process. 

Read Labels

It’s always important to read the labels on the food you buy. You’ll most likely need to change your diet with these newly emerging allergies, so it’s important to be able to prepare healthy meals.

Modify Your Favorite Recipes

Just because food allergies may arise as you age doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your favorite foods. There are a variety of websites and books devoted to those suffering from specific allergies. A few ingredient substitutions will allow you to make the meals you’ve always enjoyed. There are also a variety of products designed to replace those who have dairy, peanut, and gluten allergy. More and more dairy-free and gluten-free products hit the market every day.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

One of the easiest precautions to take is to avoid cross-contamination. Make sure to wash dishes, cutting boards, and other utensils that could possibly transfer allergens. It’s also important to double-check that restaurants take the same precautions.

Food Allergies in the Elderly
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