"Achoo!" A sneeze, cough, itchy, runny eyes and nose are all symptoms of seasonal allergies. While they can make anyone miserable, they often have a more serious impact on the lives and health of seniors. Complicating factors, such as chronic disease and conflicts between medications, make it difficult for older adults to safely treat their allergies.
Here’s what you need to know about spring allergies and how you can help your senior loved one stay safe during allergy season.
What Caregivers Need to Know about Seniors and Allergy Season
What causes allergies?
An allergic reaction results when the body's immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment. The most common triggers are grass, mold and pollen.
In the Midwest, spring allergies can actually begin in February and last until early summer. Mild winter temperatures cause plants to pollinate early. A rainy spring can promote rapid plant growth and lead to an increase in mold, causing symptoms well into fall.
Ragweed grows wild everywhere but especially on the east coast and in the Midwest. It is the most common culprit for fall allergies. Ragweed plants bloom and release pollen from August through November.
Why are allergies especially dangerous to seniors?
Allergy symptoms and nasal congestion can lead to increased shortness of breath for older adults who have a chronic disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness. Adults in this country spend over $18 billion a year trying to manage them.
Allergies impact seniors in a variety of ways. Antihistamines, which many people take to minimize the effects of allergies, can increase blood pressure. Medications many seniors take to lower blood pressure may negatively interact with antihistamines. Cardiac and pulmonary conditions such as COPD can be aggravated by pollen, mold and dust.
Make sure to inform your doctor about your senior loved one's allergies and consult with him or her before using over-the-counter medications. This seems obvious but patients often focus on the "big" health issues with their physician and fail to mention allergies.
Get to Know What Triggers a Senior Loved One’s Allergies
What might surprise you is that more than two thirds of spring allergy sufferers have year-round symptoms.
Common allergy triggers include:
- Pollen, mold and dust
- Smoke from campfire or fireplace
- Insect bites and stings
- Chlorine in indoor and outdoor swimming pools
- Pine trees and grass
3 Tips to Protect a Senior During Allergy Season
1. Control the environment
Encourage your senior loved one to stay indoors with windows and doors closed during peak allergy season. Keep the windows shut when riding in the car. Use an air conditioner, fan or humidifier to cool the house and car.
2. Avoid outdoor exposure
Pollen counts are highest midday and in the afternoon. Avoid going outdoors during times pollen counts are predicted to be the worst. If you have to go outdoors, wear a filter mask, take medications beforehand and change clothes when you come back inside.
Local weather reports often include pollen alerts in their daily updates. The National Pollen website also publishes allergy forecasts.
3. Work closely with your doctor or allergist
An allergist can help you pinpoint the source of your aging loved one's suffering and find safe ways to treat it. Consult your senior family member’s primary care physician to obtain a referral to one of these specialists.
Also be sure to discuss any over-the-counter allergy medications with your physician before taking them. Remind your doctor of all non-allergy medications you or your senior loved one are taking to avoid potential drug interactions.
Communities such as Randall Residence use a combination of health and wellness programs to help older adults experience healthier, more vibrant lives. We invite you to contact to community nearest to your loved one to learn more.