It’s well known that the elderly have a harder time fending off diseases, including the flu. The common symptoms of flu (aching, chills, sore throat, headache, runny nose, etc.) may be much worse for seniors, and the disease is more likely to lead to other complications. These complications may include:
- Sinus and ear infections
- Worsening of chronic health problems like asthma
Age and the Immune System
Ultimately, it comes down to a weaker immune system. The older you get, the weaker your immune system will become, which makes it much more difficult to fight off infections like the flu virus. When the virus attacks a person who has weakened immunity, the symptoms tend to be much worse and may lead to complications, even after the disease itself has been warded off.
How the Immune System Works
To understand how age affects immunity, let’s look at the immune system itself. Simply put, your body uses white blood cells in the blood stream to respond to infections and remove them. These cells come in various forms, including T cells, which do much of the coordinating of immune function, and macrophages, which directly ingest foreign cells. Antibodies are also produced, and these serve the purpose of marking infections.
So What Happens?
A variety of immune functions are negatively impacted by old age. A few examples are:
- White blood cells diminish in number
- The thymus gland, which produces T cells, shrinks with age
- T cells themselves cease to function as efficiently as they did in earlier years
- Macrophages work slower as well
- Antibody production drops, and antibodies themselves don’t do their job as well as before
These changes make the body less able to cope with diseases, including the flu, pneumonia, and other infections. This allows them to run rampant in the body unchecked, making diseases that much worse.