As spring arrives and plant and tree pollen increases, so does the incidence of seasonal allergies. Although people can develop allergies at any age, older adults may find they are experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time. And for reasons not yet determined, the occurrence of adult-onset allergies in the U.S. is growing.
Why Seniors Are at Risk
“As we age, our immune system does weaken,” says Anthony J. Weido, MD, president of Allergy & Asthma Associates in Houston, Texas, and the Gulf Coast area. “As the immune system weakens, the hyper-allergic reaction also weakens.”
Allergies can worsen other chronic medical conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Allergy symptoms such as a congested nose and an irritated throat also can create dangerous health issues for seniors with pre-existing cardiovascular problems. For these reasons, allergies in the elderly should be treated quickly, says Christopher Randolph, MD, member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s Asthma & Allergic Diseases in the Elderly Committee.
Airborne Allergy Symptoms
Common symptoms of an allergy to airborne products such as pollen or ragweed include:
- Itchy, watery, red, or swollen eyes
- Runny, stuffy, or itchy nose
- Potential fatigue or weakness
Getting Tested and Documenting Allergies
For seniors who appear to be suffering from seasonal allergies, testing by an allergy specialist can confirm which, if any, allergens are causing symptoms. A skin scratch test in an allergist’s office typically can identify the culprits. Talk with the allergist about allergy medications that are appropriate for seniors and about potential interactions between medications.
Problems with Seasonal Allergy Medications
Antihistamines, a common over-the-counter medication used to treat seasonal allergies, can cause serious side effects with seniors, including dizziness, drowsiness, low blood pressure, dry mouth, urinary retention, and confusion. Some of these side effects can increase the likelihood of falls and injury for seniors. Older adults should consult with a physician before taking antihistamines to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.
How to Decrease Airborne Allergy Symptoms
To lessen symptoms caused by allergic reactions to pollen and other allergens, follow these tips:
- Monitor daily pollen counts by visiting websites such as pollen.com or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau to check the pollen counts in your local area. If pollen counts are high, consider staying inside.
- Close outside doors and windows when pollen count numbers are high to avoid build-up of pollen on inside surfaces.
- Limit time outside during days with high pollen counts. Pollen counts are usually highest in the morning, so wait until afternoon for outdoor activities if possible.
- Wear sunglasses when outside to keep pollen and other irritants out of your eyes.
- Wash off allergens when you come inside by washing your hands, showering, and changing into fresh clothes before getting into bed. Also change bed linens frequently to remove pollen.
- Use a clothes dryer to dry clothes instead of hanging up clothes outside during high pollen days.
- Run an air purifier inside to remove allergens from the air.
- Change air conditioner filters during pollen season to filter outdoor air.
To help yourself or the senior in your life be more comfortable during allergy season, make preparations now before pollen and other allergens fill the air.