By Eunice K. Neubauer, CSA
When visiting New York City with my daughter about ten years ago, a restaurant dinner became a near hospital visit as we quickly discovered she was allergic to lobster. She was around 12 years old when this happened and thankfully she reacted quickly to Benadryl. Shortly after that vacation we set up an appointment to learn more about her allergies and how to manage them. In her eyes being allergic to shellfish was of no consequence to her as she would rather order a hamburger or chicken tenders. Yet, it was great to be equipped with this knowledge to prevent this attack again.
Food allergy is an increasing health concern for the geriatric population as the body and specifically the immune system is going through changes. Allergies can develop later in life and if an older adult has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, that coupled with allergies can really have an impact on their quality of life.
It’s been estimated that about 5-10 percent of the elderly have food allergies, yet based on studies in 2010 and 2011 it was estimated that nearly 25 percent of geriatric patients in a nursing home environment were positive for food allergies when they were given a skin test.
As we age, we have decreased stomach acid which is needed to absorb food allergens. Symptoms for allergies can be mild to severe. A person experiencing anaphylaxis will seek immediate medical attention that will result in an easier diagnosis. However, the elderly are less likely to experience anaphylaxis making detection more difficult. For more information on how to detect a food allergy and what foods cause most common food allergies see the two tables here.