Allergies in the elderly: often neglected

For the elderly, many doctors first look for an infection or signs of aging. Photo: AdobeStock - Africa Studio - Editing: vrm / fm

For the elderly, many doctors first look for an infection or signs of aging.
Photo: AdobeStock – Africa Studio – Editing: vrm / fm

Ms. M. is 75 years old, she is in good health and biking every day when she realizes in April that she always has tears in her eyes and that she has to sneeze. When she can no longer eat apples because of burns and tingling in her mouth, she goes to the doctor. After a sting test, it is clear that she has developed a new allergy to birch pollen and an allergy to pome fruits.

Previously, they were considered as diseases in adolescents

"While 30 years ago, allergies were classified as children's and adolescents' diseases and allergic diseases were less commonly seen in people over 50, patients over 70 are increasingly suffering from classic allergic diseases such as hay fever or atopic dermatitis, "said Ludger Klimek, head of the center for rhinology and allergology in Wiesbaden in the Pharmazeutische Zeitung.

One thing is clear: allergies are a widespread disease. Allergy sufferers are most often affected by hay fever, followed by asthma, eczema and contact allergies. The incidence of allergic diseases has risen sharply in western countries that have adopted a healthy lifestyle since the 1970s, but now appear to be stabilizing at a high level.

Investigations conducted by the Robert Koch Institute show that in Germany, 16% of children and adolescents suffer from at least one allergy and that almost every third over eighteen has been diagnosed at least an allergy during his life.

Allergy research focuses on children and adolescents. There is therefore little data on the evolution of allergies in adulthood or even in retirement age. However, the European Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) estimates that 10% of people over 65 have allergic symptoms at retirement age.


Complete information on allergies, from everyday advice to current research results, is available on the website of the European Foundation for Allergy Research

An allergy is a disorder of the immune system. Normally, the body's defense fights dangerous invaders such as bacteria or viruses. "The immune system of an allergic person is wrong and accidentally targets harmless substances such as pollen," says Torsten Zuberbier of the Charity Allergy Center in Berlin and head of ECARF. The result is a variety of clinical pictures such as hay fever, asthma and life-threatening allergic shock.

Why allergies have increased so much in recent decades and why it seems that there is a link with the Western way of life is not yet fully understood. The so-called hygiene hypothesis states that people in industrialized countries lack mud, excrement and worms in their environment. As a result, contact with germs, to which man has been exposed for millennia, is absent. Because the immune system is underused, it is hypersensitive to harmless substances called allergens. This is corroborated by the fact that children who grow up on farms are less likely to suffer from allergies than children in cities.

"Environmental conditions have generally changed so much that today, allergies – that it is young or old people – can easily occur," Klimek said. Due to climate change, the average temperature rises, so that plants bloom earlier and longer – and that originally in Germany, native plants do not take root. For example, army ambrosia imported from North America, one of the most potent allergens in plant life, is spreading more and more here despite control measures.

The increase of pollutant load in the air also seems to play a role. "Although it is often discussed that air pollutants are at the root of asthma, there is no solid scientific evidence about it," writes the "D & D Service". Information on allergies "on his website. However, there is "evidence that there is significant exposure to air pollutants, such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, or particulate matter such as soot particles from gas. diesel exhaust, also affects allergic diseases ". This is done by irritating the mucous membranes of the airways so that allergens how pollen can easily get into the body. In addition, pollen contaminated with pollutants appears to have a higher allergic potential.

Many take the symptoms lightly

"In the elderly, the possibility of an allergy is often overlooked and pushes the symptoms of an infection or on the age itself.So we must continue to do educational work," says Zuberbier, which fundamentally ranks the situation of offering improvement for allergy sufferers in Germany.

So many people today do not take an allergy like hay fever seriously. "Many have their complaints six to eight weeks a year, then they receive their medicine at the pharmacy.Once the pollen season is over, they have forgotten the symptoms until they start again next year," he said. declared Klimek.

Many people are unaware that an allergy is a chronic inflammatory disease and that there is a risk of "level change" vis-à-vis the bronchi. "In 40% of patients, untreated hay fever turns into asthma, says Zuberbier, the elderly, often with cardiovascular disease, are at particular risk.

The good news is that you can treat allergies well. "Hyposensitization can be practiced at any age," says Zuberbier, "and the success rates are better as soon as you start early."