On today’s episode, we are going to be talking about how to help seniors with allergies. We will start off with what allergies are and what causes them. Since seniors with allergies are also prone to hay fever, we will also cover what hay fever is, how to prevent it, and what to do if your loved one is experiencing it. We will also be talking about how to help your loved ones suffering from allergies, and we’ll be discussing ways to spot when your loved one may be experiencing allergy symptoms, how to prevent their symptoms, and other ways to help them through allergy season.
Now let’s get started.
Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans each year and are especially a nuisance for seniors. Seasonal allergies usually develop early, but they can develop later in life. According to Dr. Christopher Randolph of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergies have a larger impact on the lives and health of the elderly. If you notice allergy symptoms in your loved one, let their doctor know. It can be hard for their doctor to diagnose allergies during a short visit, especially when they are monitoring other serious health issues or attempting to diagnose any new complications that you or your loved one presents them with.
You should also talk to their doctor before giving them over-the-counter allergy medicine. First-generation antihistamines, like Benadryl or the now discontinued Chlor-Trimeton, can have some pretty serious and even dangerous side effects. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology lists anxiety, confusion, sedation, drowsiness, urine retention, dry mouth and eyes, and dizziness as some of the potential side-effects.
Many of these side-effects can end up causing your loved one to fall and injure themselves or develop a painful urinary tract infection. Not only do these side effects have the potential to cause an injury to your loved one, but they make everyday life harder and more uncomfortable than it should be for older adults.
If your loved one chooses to take over-the-counter allergy medicine, you should speak to their doctor or pharmacist about second or third-generation antihistamines, like Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra. These options are still antihistamines and can still cause your loved one to experience many of the side effects that first-generation antihistamines cause, but they are less likely to do so.
It is also important to inform your loved one’s doctor of any medications you give them, as they can potentially cause changes in mood or behavior in the elderly and may lead to dangerous interactions with other commonly prescribed medications. Keeping their doctor up to date on any medications your loved one is taking, including both prescription and over the counter, is an important task to remember.
Your loved one may be suffering from a stuffy nose, and you might just assume that it is just allergies or a slight cold, but there are a number of medications that offer this side-effect in the right conditions and their doctor won’t be able to tell if their prescribed medications are being interfered with if they are not up to date on what your loved one is currently taking.
For seniors that have been dealing with seasonal allergies their whole lives, you most likely won’t have to come up with a new treatment plan. They, like many Americans, probably have found a routine that works best for them, which might include a favorite antihistamine or nasal steroid. You may have to adjust their allergy treatment plan, though. What once worked for them may no longer be enough to combat their symptoms.
If they take antihistamines daily, but their usual choice of medicine isn’t working, try switching brands and see if that helps. There are several second and third-generation antihistamines that can be found at your local pharmacy or grocery store. You can ask a pharmacist for help if you are unsure of which medicine you should try.
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or Dementia, they may not be able to let you know they are experiencing allergy symptoms or tell you what works best for them. You will have to be on the lookout for symptoms during peak allergy season. Do you already know they get seasonal allergies? You may be able to start giving them their allergy medicine if you notice the pollen count rising in your area. You can always talk to their doctor if you are unsure what to do in this situation.
If you are interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s or Dementia, check out some of the episodes we’ve done covering these topics or visit our website for more information. You can also view our playlist on Alzheimer’s and Dementia on our YouTube channel.
For those that have developed seasonal allergies later in life, those that are finding themselves needing a new way to manage their allergies, or those that want to manage their allergy symptoms without taking a daily antihistamine or other medication, there are a few ways to manage allergy symptoms without the use of medications.
Now, none of these will completely make your allergies disappear, but they may help alleviate some of the symptoms. And, paired with a daily antihistamine or other medication, can help your loved one feel more like themselves during peak allergy season.
First, you will want to make sure that your loved one has a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter for their air conditioner and make sure it is routinely serviced. A HEPA filter removes allergens from the air and helps prevent them from circulating around the house. You should also refrain from leaving the windows or doors open when the pollen count is high. Check your local weather report to see what the pollen count is and try to limit outdoor exposure when it is too high. If you need to be outdoors, wear sunglasses to help prevent eye irritation and sun damage and wash your hands when you come back inside.
If possible, change clothes and take a shower, as well so you can limit the number of allergens in the home. Keeping a normal cleaning schedule that includes dusting and vacuuming the home can also help remove allergens inside. Having a clean space can also help improve your loved one’s overall mood and if their allergies are making it difficult to enjoy time outside, having a clean house is one less thing they will have to worry about.
Eating foods that help lower inflammation, like apples, flaxseed, ginger, leafy greens, walnuts, and anything high in Vitamin C, may help decrease some of the symptoms your loved one might be experiencing, as well. Allergens cause irritation and inflammation in the body and foods that reduce inflammation, like those we just listed, may help your loved one manage their allergy symptoms. You should also dry their clothes, and your own, in a dryer and not hung up outside to prevent allergens attaching to the clothes before they are brought back inside.
For most Americans, allergies are a nuisance, but for seniors, they can present a real danger. Seniors with other health issues, like COPD or high blood pressure, can be severely affected during allergy season. The most common allergy symptoms, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, chest congestion, and difficulty breathing, can cause other reactions in seniors with respiratory illnesses or diseases.
If your loved one uses an inhaler to help manage their allergies, make sure to always have it on hand. Even if you are only leaving the house to run to the post office, make sure you bring their inhaler with you. You never know when your loved one may need it and it is better to always carry it with you. You can also talk to their doctor and ask them if they can prescribe your loved one backup inhalers, that way you can always have one at home and another to carry one with you. This is also a good practice to keep if you have asthma. And if your loved one does have asthma, allergies can definitely trigger an attack, so you will also want to make sure your loved one or you are always carrying an inhaler during allergy season in case they need it.
Seasonal allergies and their symptoms are not life-threatening, but they can be if your loved one takes any medications that their doctor is unaware of. Unless you are a doctor or a pharmacist, you probably don’t know how a certain medication will interact with another, so it really is important to tell your loved one’s doctors any and all medications they are taking.
If your loved one has allergies, they may have gotten hay fever at some point in their life or they may have it while you are providing care for them. You may be wondering, what exactly hay fever is. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, affects somewhere between forty and 60 million Americans a year. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergic rhinitis develops when the body’s immune system recognizes and overreacts to something in the environment that typically causes no problems in most people. The name hay fever is a bit of a misnomer. Hay can cause some people to develop hay fever, but not everyone that experiences it is ever around hay. And hay fever does not cause a fever. People experiencing hay fever may have a runny nose, itchy eyes, mouth or skin, sneezing, stuffy nose, and fatigue, which is usually due to getting poor quality sleep with a stuffy nose.
There are two types of hay fever that people experience, seasonal and perennial. Seasonal hay fever usually happens from springtime through early autumn and is usually caused by outdoor mold or pollen. Perennial hay fever is usually experienced year-round and is caused by inside allergens, like dust, pet dander or pet hair, cockroaches, and mold.
It is also possible for food allergies to present themselves as hay fever. If your loved one experiences perennial hay fever and almost constantly has nasal congestion, ask their doctor if there’s a chance that they have any food allergies you are unaware of. Don’t remove any food groups from your loved one’s diet without consulting with their doctor first.
Since hay fever usually presents itself as prolonged nasal congestion, your loved one might not know they are experiencing any allergy symptoms and think they have just come down with the common cold, which they might! It is possible to mistake a cold for allergies and vice versa, but if your loved one always has a stuffy nose in the spring, it is highly likely that they have seasonal allergies.
Doctors usually suggest treating hay fever the same way you treat allergy symptoms. You will want to keep the windows closed during peak pollen periods and use a HEPA filter for your air conditioner. Wear glasses outside to minimize irritants getting in your eyes. They also suggest using mite-proof bed covers to limit exposure to dust mites and a dehumidifier to control mold. You should also wash your hands after petting an animal and have someone else groom your pet if you have hay fever.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, intranasal corticosteroids are the single most effective drug class for treating allergic rhinitis and can significantly reduce nasal congestion as well as sneezing, itching, and a runny nose. Your doctor or an allergy specialist can determine if these are the best medication for your loved one to take to control their hay fever symptoms. Since these are nasal sprays and not an oral medication, they avoid many of the side effects that come with taking antihistamines. The usual side effects of nasal sprays include irritation in the area sprayed and nose bleeds.
Antihistamines can also help your loved one manage hay fever, but they come with all the side effects we talked about earlier in the episode. Another option that can help with hay fever is a decongestant. If your loved one has high blood pressure or heart disease, check with their doctor first before using any decongestant. Decongestant nasal sprays work well. Most people that use them feel relief in minutes and it lasts for a few hours. If your loved one uses this option, make sure they only use it for a few days at a time, unless otherwise instructed by their doctor. Using a decongestant nasal spray for too long can end up causing more swelling in the nasal cavity.
If your loved one is constantly suffering from allergies or hay fever and medications just are not working well or the side effects are too much, immunotherapy may be an option for them. Immunotherapy is usually long-lasting and has far fewer side effects than a daily antihistamine. Your loved one may be able to receive allergy shots or sublingual tablets, which dissolve under the tongue. Allergy shots inject a small amount of allergens directly into the arm, increasing the dose each week until a certain level has been achieved.
At this point, the patient then gets a shot once a month until another level is achieved and then once every six months. The period of time between shots can vary from person to person, though. This process lasts anywhere from three to five years and the effects of the shots, either lessening the allergy symptoms or making them disappear completely, lasts several more years. Typically, you would need to start the cycle again in six years.
Allergy shots can be time-consuming and take a while to actually see any improvement. If you do not want to deal with the shots, a sublingual tablet may be for you. Your loved one can take these year-round or they can start a few months before allergy season begins for them. However, there are more restrictions for this treatment. Currently, sublingual tablets are only available to treat certain grass and ragweed pollens and indoor dust mites.
It is still a fairly new treatment, as it was approved by the FDA in 2014, and as the years go on, they will be able to treat more allergens. Sublingual tablets are taken daily and dissolve under the tongue. These can be taken up to three years. After that, you will need to devise a new treatment plan with your loved one’s doctor. For both of these treatment types, your doctor may refer you to an allergist if you don’t see one already.
Allergies can be miserable and make you feel terrible constantly. We hope this episode has been helpful to you and given you new ways to help you manage your loved one’s allergies.
We want to say thank you for joining us here at All Home Care Matters and for being a part of our 100th episode. All Home Care Matters is here for you and to help families as they navigate long-term care issues. Please visit us at allhomecarematters.com there is a private secure fillable form there where you can give us feedback, show ideas, or if you have questions. Every form is read and responded to. If you know someone is who could benefit from this episode and please make sure to share it with them.
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