Seasonal Allergies and the Older Adult

Seasonal allergies are in full swing this time of year and if itchy eyes, a stuffy nose or scratchy throat has you avoiding the outdoors, you are not alone.  Allergies can crop up at any age and seniors may experience an allergic reaction later in life that was not previously an issue.

But antihistamines commonly used to minimize allergic symptoms may have dangerous side effects for seniors.   Antihistamines can not only raise blood pressure but may also have serious side effects if they interact with other medications so always talk with you doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter or prescription drug or supplement.

Antihistamines can also trigger confusion, anxiety, blurred vision, dry mouth and eyes and urinary retention in elderly patients.  And seniors may find they more affected by allergies because the nasal membranes become drier and less elastic with age.

Without using drugs, there are a number of ways to minimize exposure to pollen which may aggravate existing pulmonary and cardiac conditions.   Older adults who have a chronic illness or respiratory problems such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) should try to minimize their exposure to allergens which may increase risks for complications.

Allergy Symptom Prevention

  • Rather than opening windows and letting in pollen and molds, use an air conditioner and change furnace filters regularly.
  • Keep living space well dusted and vacuumed to reduce pollen exposure.
  • Dry clothes in a dryer.  Hanging clothes outdoors when pollen levels are high will deposit allergens on clothes, towels and bedding.
  • Wash linens regularly.
  • Shower after coming indoors and before getting into bed.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses outdoors to help keep pollen out of eyes and off hair.
  • A saline nasal spray or rinse can help moisten dry nasal passages and relieve irritation.  Be sure to use purified or distilled water.
  • Plan outings when pollen levels are lower.
  • Talk with an allergist to see if immunotherapy in the form of weekly shots or an oral treatment may be appropriate.

To learn more about allergies and older adults visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology by following this link.