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Allergies for the Aging 101

By Jeanette Jacobson

Millions of us suffer from seasonal allergies; at least one out of every 5 Americans experiences some type of allergic reaction1.The elderly are not exempt from typical allergy symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes. Additionally, seniors often have complicating factors–such as chronic diseases that make it difficult to deal with allergies and the medications that are used to relieve symptoms.

The elderly should be treated as quickly and completely as possible, because allergies can have a larger impact on their health.2 Symptoms can be extremely dangerous to a senior who may have varying pre-existing conditions, such as cardiovascular problems. That said, when an elderly person goes to the doctor, diagnosing allergies and separating them from an ongoing illness may be challenging.

Another issue is what to prescribe an elderly person that won’t interfere with their other medications. Antihistamines are standard allergy relievers but can have worrying side effects including: confusion, drowsiness, urinary retention, dry mouth and eyes, and dizziness that can be especially dangerous for seniors2. Antihistamines may also cause changes in mood or behavior and can have dangerous interactions with commonly prescribed medications. Because of these potential factors, a doctor often prescribes a nasal steroid or some form of topical medication2.

Current allergy research is focused on preventing allergic reaction in the first place rather than managing the symptoms. Allergy specialists expect that this is the future of allergy treatment. There is hope that by combining an antihistamine with a steroid inhaler, treatment can be delivered directly into the nose, avoiding unpleasant side effects associated with the drug3.

We can manage our surroundings to reduce the exposure to allergy triggers by: 

  • Staying indoors on dry, windy days — the best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
  • Delegating lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
  • Not hanging laundry outside as pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
  • Wearing a dust mask when doing outside chores.

Seasonal allergy symptoms flare up when there’s a lot of pollen in the air. These steps can help you reduce your exposure:

  • Check local media for the pollen forecasts and current pollen levels.
  • Close doors and windows at night or any other time when pollen counts are high.
  • Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.

There is no miracle product that can remove all allergens from the air in your home, but the following may help:

  • Use air conditioning in your house and car.
  • If you have forced air heating or air conditioning in your house, use high-efficiency filters and follow regular maintenance schedules.
  • Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier.
  • Use portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and clean floors with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.

Jeanette Jacobson is a part of the ElderCaring team in La Quinta (760) 333.0427.

References: 1) http://www.webmd.com/allergies/default.htm; 2) Botek, A.-M. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2013, from www.agingcare.com: http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/help-elders-survive-allergy-season-150138.htm; 3) Eure, M. A. (n.d.). Coping With Seasonal Allergies. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from http://seniorhealth.about.com/od/respiratorydisease/a/seasonal_allerg.htm

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