People can have allergies to many different common objects. Anything from down-filled pillows and comforters to peanut butter sandwiches can cause severe allergic reactions. What is more, ‘Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.,’ according to the to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Young, healthy people may only experience mild annoyance at an allergic reaction. Older adults, however, could suffer severe medical consequences, such as compromised respiration. Furthermore, repeated stress related to allergies could exacerbate other medical conditions as well. Anyone providing living space for a senior or serving as the caregiver for an older adult should do their best to limit allergens within the environment.
Don’t Ignore the Signs
For many people, allergy season is all year. For other people, allergies that be seasonal depending on the type of allergies a person suffers from. When allergy season arrives, those who fall victims to seasonal allergies start to complain, stock up on tissue, and continue with their day. While most prescription medication helps adults find relief, others simply ignore them.
For seniors, ignoring the symptoms can be dangerous to their health. A stuffy nose is considered as ‘inconvenient’ for adults, but for seniors with chronic issues such as respiratory or heart conditions, any difficulty in breathing can lead to larger problems.
If you’re experiencing allergy symptoms, you may have developed a new allergy. Due to genetics, lifestyle changes, and illness, new allergies can appear during the later years. In fact, it is not uncommon for seniors to experience their first symptoms of allergy during their 60s and 70s.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) says people often confuse if there are experiencing symptoms from a cold, the flu or an allergy. The NIH chart below shows common symptoms:
|Fever||Rare||Usual, high (100-102 °F), sometimes higher, especially in young children); lasts 3-4 days||Never|
|General Aches, Pains||Slight||Usual; often severe||Never|
|Fatigue, Weakness||Sometimes||Usual, can last up to 3 weeks||Sometimes|
|Extreme Exhaustion||Never||Usual, at the beginning of the illness||Never|
|Stuffy, Runny Nose||Common||Sometimes||Common|
|Cough||Common||Common, can become severe||Sometimes|
|Chest Discomfort||Mild to moderate||Common||Rare, except for those with allergic asthma|
|Treatment||Get plenty of rest.||Get plenty of rest.||Avoid allergens (things that you’re allergic to)|
|Stay hydrated. (Drink plenty of fluids.)||Stay hydrated.||Antihistamines|
|Decongestants.||Aspirin (ages 18 and up), acetaminophen, or ibuprofen for aches, pains, and fever||Nasal steroids|
|Aspirin (ages 18 and up), acetaminophen, or ibuprofen for aches and pains||Antiviral medicines (see your doctor)||Decongestants|
|Prevention||Wash your hands often.||Get the flu vaccine each year.||Avoid allergens, such as pollen, house dust mites, mold, pet dander, cockroaches.|
|Avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold.||Wash your hands often.|
|Avoid close contact with anyone who has the flu.|
|Complications||Sinus infection middle ear infection, asthma||Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening||Sinus infection, middle ear infection, asthma|
The NIH says that allergy symptoms will usually last based on a person’s exposure to the allergen. Colds or the flu generally will not last beyond two weeks.
A person suffering from a cold or the flu will generally recover without medical care. Those who are older, however, or with other health complications, may suffer longer.
Always contact your doctor if symptoms last beyond 10 days or if the symptoms are not relieved with use of over-the-counter medicines. Remember, people with health issues, or those who are older, should always check with their doctor prior to using over-the-counter medications. For more about when to see a doctor, go to Center for Disease Control (CDC) Flu Page.
Consider Getting Allergy Testing
People can be allergic to anything, from dust to antibiotics. The incredible scope of potential allergies makes it nearly impossible for any one household to eliminate all allergens. If a loved one already has known allergies, you can obviously take steps to accommodate that allergy by preventing mold growth, deep cleaning the house with non-toxic products, or even re-homing pets that could trigger allergic reactions. Investing in a powerful air filter can help remove allergens already circulating in your home.
If you do not know what allergies your loved one has and they are experiencing allergic reactions, you may need to take them in for allergy testing. This process involves a series of small needle pricks to see what reaction the body has to different allergens. Once you have identified allergens that cause severe reactions in your older adult, it will be much easier to reduce or eliminate the presence of that allergen in your home.
Avoid Over-the-Counter Antihistamines
While allergy medication is commonly used, most prescriptions can be detrimental to senior adults. In fact, the harmful side effects can be extreme dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, and dry mouth. When taken with other medication, allergy drugs can result in negative interactions, ranging from insomnia, behavioral issues, and mood swings.
Wash Off Potential Pollen
Staying indoors all winter long can make even the best of us feel groggy. As the weather heats up, we want to head outside and soak up the sun. But remember, pollen can stick to hair and clothing, with can be tracked back into the home. To prevent this, seniors and families can remove their shoes upon entering the house, wash their hands, and take a shower to prevent the onset of allergy symptoms and keep the pollen away.
Weather forecasts usually include a pollen count and can be found online. You can use this to your advantage and avoid outdoor activities for when allergens are particularly high. If your family must go outside, remember to wear loose clothing and wear sunglasses to avoid eye irritation.
Be Ready to Upgrade Upholstery and Carpeting
Hard surfaces are often much easier to treat then soft or upholstered surfaces. You can wipe down the counter or linoleum floor, but you can't necessarily do the same thing for carpet. Depending on the allergies your older adults has, it may be necessary to replace upholstered furniture that has high levels of allergen exposure. The same may be true for carpets and area rugs. if it isn't possible to safely remediate the allergens from a fabric surface, it is much better for your loved one to replace the fabric or carpeting in question rather than risk of severe allergic reaction.
Keep the Doors and Windows Closed
As the sun comes out, it is tempting to open the doors and windows to let the breeze enter. Getting outside to breathe in the fresh air, exercise, and natural vitamin D is essential for seniors. But with that, you are also inviting pollen into the home. For seniors, especially their bedrooms, keep the doors shut and windows closed to reduce the risks of allergens.
Getting Rid of Dust
One of the best ways to control indoor allergens is to get rid of dust. As the most common trigger of asthma and allergy symptoms, dust mites thrive in corners and hard to reach areas, especially near the ventilators. Use a damp cloth that attracts dust rather than spreading it. Since we spend most of our time in the bedroom, wash the bedding, throw rugs, and pillows regularly to reduce allergens.
Make an effort to wash the bed sheets, pillowcases, and blankets in hot water once a week. You can also try to minimize clutter in the home and wear a mask when cleaning.
Prevent the Growth of Mold
Molds and mildew are known to thrive in damp areas of the house, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. As a result, mold spores can float in the air like pollen and trigger allergies. To reduce the risks, replace wallpaper with tiles or mold-resistant paint. Additionally, take time to reply moldy carpeting and shower curtains as well as run a daily dehumidifier to reduce moisture in the room.
Use Eco-Friendly Cleaners
Most harsh chemicals found in household cleaners can aggravate allergy symptoms, especially in seniors with sensitivity to smell. Switch to green products which have natural plant-based ingredients. You can also make your own products using vinegar, baking soda, and lemon.
For many families, keeping homes clean and reducing known allergens is all it takes to ensure a safe space for seniors. Other times, more intense effort may become necessary. From removing sources of pet dander to investing in air filtration systems, you can take many steps to reduce allergen exposure and ensure the safest, healthiest environment for the older adult in your life.