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Allergies and the Elderly

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The immune systems of our bodies are important for protecting us from harmful substances and organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi as well as damaged cells of our own bodies. All of the cells in your immune system learn what to do with foreign invaders as we get older from birth.

When there is an over-reaction of the immune system to normally harmless substances, this is what is known as an allergy or allergic reaction. When this happens, the body is going into a panic over the substance and it produces itching and inflammation in certain areas.

Allergy Factors

There are a number of different factors that come into play for the body’s allergic responses. These include the state of the immune system, diet, climate, gut bacteria composition, pollution, bacteria, and exposure to certain chemicals over time.

Since there are many factors involved, it is often hard to pinpoint the exact cause of an allergy. At the same time as all of these easily understood allergy factors, another one is age. As it turns out, the older a person gets, the more prone to allergy problems they are.

Hypersensitivity and the Elderly

Hypersensitivity reactions are the most severe type of allergy and this includes anaphylaxis with difficulty breathing and immediate inflammation. This level of allergic response comprises 25% of all allergies.

Mostly, research has focused on the younger populations. Now that life expectancy is increasing more and more and elderly people comprise a larger part of the population, allergies are more studied in the elderly at this time.

The Immune Lag

Since there is a decrease in immunity with aging and since T cells are the most important type of immune cell involved in cell-mediated immunological responses, the immune system is compromised. This means greater hypersensitivity to allergens.

Vaccinations even stop working well in the elderly because of the lack of cell-mediated immune response. While you would think this would make allergic reactions weaker, it does not. It makes them more severe in different ways.

Bacteria as a Culprit

Since the immune system is so weakened in the elderly, it is now understood that the common allergic syndrome of allergic rhinitis is actually mediated by bacterial growth. The immune system is weaker, inflammation sets in, and bacteria grow in the sinuses, thus increasing allergies.

In conclusion, the weakened ability of the elderly to fight off bad bacteria and maintain healthy bacteria in the gut causes more allergies to occur.

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an allergic condition that affects the nasal area. It is prevalent in older populations, but there exists limited research on physiological changes in the nose as we age. There is evidence, however, that some types of rhinitis can occur after infections that more likely occur after intensive therapies such as surgery and radiation therapy. Generally, the increasing risk of allergic rhinitis in the elderly is believed to be attributed to changes in the bacterial composition in the nasal cavity, which have significant effects on the immune system.