Breathing Easy: How To Help Seniors Survive Allergy Season
Spring is in the air! Along with the arrival birds, bees, and more sunshine come pollen, dust, and other allergens that cause great discomfort to many. Older adults are not immune from springtime sniffles and sneezing. In fact, a growing number of seniors are developing allergies for the first time in older age. Though allergies are best known for affecting children, rates of adult-onset allergies are skyrocketing. It’s not uncommon for an adult over age 75 to be diagnosed with allergies for the very first time in his or her life. For seniors, allergies pose a higher risk than for any other age group. Allergies can complicate other chronic medical conditions, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). What’s more: the most common medication for allergy relief contains antihistamines, which are potentially dangerous if taken with blood pressure medication. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and dizziness which could increase fall risk or risk of injury. Following are a few ways caregivers can help keep seniors safe and more comfortable this allergy season:
- Be a sniffle sleuth – As Spring blooms, allergies are more likely to appear. Watch for traditional symptoms of allergic reaction in your senior including: sniffling, sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes.
- Get tested - If you suspect your senior is suffering from allergies, see an allergy specialist for a scratch test. This panel of diagnostics will test for a standard set of allergens, but make sure to come prepared with a list of other potential causes from the home (laundry detergents, pets, perfumes). This will ensure all possible allergy sources are checked and ruled out. Bring all medications the person is currently taking to the visit.
- Document allergies – The primary care physician should be aware of everything the senior is allergic to including pollen, food, pets, and medications. If an emergency should occur, then the healthcare team is “in the know”. In the home, create a list of the senior’s allergies and post it up on the fridge, next to the phone, or in another highly visible spot. That way, all caregivers, friends, and family who come in and out of the home will be aware of what the senior is allergic to.
- Monitor local pollen counts – Use sites like Pollen.com to check allergy alerts in your area. Avoid outdoor activity on days when it is high or opt for an indoor activity such as walking through the mall. Pollen is usually highest in mornings, so if possible, keep the senior active inside the home until the afternoon.
- Wash away allergens – Caregivers can help and encourage a senior to shower after being outdoors. This will remove any lingering pollen from the hair and skin. Changing into fresh clothes will keep allergens from following a senior into bed. Be sure to clean sheets often to get rid of pollen.
- Close windows at bedtime – Keep windows shut while the senior sleep to prevent molds and pollens from drifting into the home. Instead, opt for air conditioning to keep the space cool and dry overnight. A dehumidifier can also help purify the air, keeping dust and dirt out of the senior’s system.
- Use a dryer – Line-drying clothes can expose garments to allergens, which then build up in the clothing fibers. Instead, use a standard clothes dryer to dry clothes.