Spring is right around the corner—and that means pesky seasonal allergies are too. According to the CDC, every year more than 50 million Americans experience allergies, which are the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in the nation. And in seniors, allergies pose a more significant risk; seasonal pollens can further aggravate existing heart conditions and other discomforts in the elderly population.
As baby boomers age, more and more research will need to be done to note the impact of allergies on this population. In this age group, there are a number of factors that may trigger an allergy (or disguise it) that they need to be aware of—ones that make it harder to diagnose and relieve senior allergy pains.
According to Randy Robinson, MD, Co-Founder and CMO of R-Health:
"In seniors, many doctors misdiagnose allergy symptoms as something much greater, or may consider them to be part of a condition they are already battling. If misdiagnosed, allergies’ inflammatory responses can lead to greater issues for seniors, like chronic illness. That’s why it’s important to treat allergies quickly and effectively in seniors."
Do I have allergies?
If you’ve developed what you think are a case of allergies, here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
What are my symptoms?
The most common symptoms of allergies include running nose, sniffling, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes. If you have the symptoms below, it may be that you have the flu or a cold, not allergies.
- Sore throat
- Body aches
Have I recently taken any new medication?
Certain prescriptions can make your allergy symptoms worse or lead you to mistake your side effects as allergy symptoms. For example: beta blockers can worsen nasal stuffiness.
Have I had allergies before?
If you’ve had allergies before, you probably know how to self-diagnose your symptoms.
If you’ve never experienced allergies before, you’re not alone; many older adults develop allergies for the first time in their later years. Immunosenescence (aging of the immune system) is a common reason why seniors may handle allergies differently than they had in the past.
It’s important to keep in mind that the most common allergy-relief prescription is not recommended for people over 65. Antihistamines can increase blood pressure and interact with other medications to cause severe side effects. As with any medication, you should always consult with your doctors to find a safe allergy solution.
“It is nearly impossible to prevent allergies, but there are some steps you can take to prevent allergic reactions and help you feel more comfort during this time of the year.” Adds Dr. Robinson. “And seniors present a more complicated case. We are continually looking for more ways to help them find comfort during the allergy season.”
Spring cleaning: Allergy prevention in the home
While seniors can’t take antihistamines, they can take preventative steps to keep allergy symptoms at bay.
The most common cause of allergic diseases is from inhalant allergens, such as mold and pollens. Keeping your home clear of these can help relieve some of your discomfort this spring. Here are a few recommendations from Dr. Robinson to prevent and reduce seasonal allergies for you or your loved ones, without the use of antihistamines.
- Clean your home weekly. Vacuum and dust your home as often as possible during the spring. Make sure to wear a mask if you are extra sensitive.
- Use air conditioning. Keep your windows closed and rely on your air conditioning to keep your home cool (between 68 F and 72 F) and allergen free.
- Wash your hands. When you come inside, wash your hands to get rid of pollens that may cause allergies or reactions. You should also change your clothes and put them immediately in the wash as well.
- Research pollen levels in your area. Local allergen forecasts can help you note when pollen levels are particularly high so you can avoid going outside or take extra care.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C. These foods can help fight inflammation. Other foods include ginger, walnuts, apples, and green, leafy vegetables.
- Remove unnecessary clutter. If you have items around the house that serve as a dust collector, get rid of them. Dust can build up and irritate your allergies.
- Use a dehumidifier. Mold is a common cause of seasonal allergies. Keep your home’s humidity under 50 percent when possible.
Allergies can be a nuisance for anyone—especially seniors who expect to spend their retirement years on the golf course or in their garden. If allergy symptoms still persist or if you are in extreme discomfort, please contact your doctor immediately.