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Tuesday, 12 June 2018 08:00

Tackling summer allergies in the elderly

Allergies – they affect a huge portion of the British population and do not discriminate by age! As the weather turns warmer and all our favourite trees, shrubs and flowers begin to bloom, allergies are a daily reality that begin to plague much of the elderly community.

Unfortunately, being highly sensitive to airborne pollens and resulting allergies is not something one can usually ‘outgrow’ with age. In fact, many people may even tend to develop other allergies as they get older. But when it comes to the elderly, allergies can be all the more difficult to manage due to a number of chronic or long-term illnesses they may already be suffering from.

Allergies have a tendency to complicate pre-existing conditions, making it more difficult to control stuffy noses, watering eyes, tight chests and bouts of asthma. This is why allergy season needs to be taken seriously, as allergic reactions can lead to disease complications.

In order to make allergy season a little more comfortable for your senior loved ones, here are a few simple steps to follow:

1. Keep track of allergy symptoms

Some pre-existing conditions in the elderly, specifically Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s make it difficult for seniors to express their discomfort during allergy season. To add to this, a caregiver may be too pre-occupied with more pertinent duties. However, this is no excuse to avoid all the common symptoms of allergies – look out for sneezing, runny noses, itchy noses, itchy eyes, watering eyes, raspy breathing or discomfort when breathing.

2. Visit your doctor, ASAP

If you notice than an elderly loved one is suffering from typical symptoms of allergy season, you’ll need to visit their doctor right away. If a senior suffers from chronic conditions such as heart disease or lung disease, it’s especially important that allergies are nipped in the bud as early on as possible. Allergies will only exacerbate these types of conditions by putting strain on both the lungs and the heart, posing a real risk to your loved ones.

3. Avoid antihistamines

While this may sound completely counter-productive for allergy season, antihistamines aren’t always the best solution for allergies in the elderly. These medications tend to carry adverse side-effects for seniors, including drowsiness, urine retention, dry mouth, dry eyes, confusion, and dizziness. Ultimately, these symptoms can contribute to an already weakened state and lead to dangerous falls and urinary tract infections which are highly common in seniors.

Antihistamines can also interact with other chronic medications a senior may be taking, leading to mood and behaviour changes. Your doctor should be able to prescribe another form of allergy relief, such as a nasal steroid or topical medication.

4. Opt for a medication-free approach

If you are wary of prescribing more medication to an already medicated senior, then prevention may be another approach to consider when managing allergies. Though this approach may work best with someone who only suffers from mild allergies.

Try and minimise a senior’s exposure to allergens throughout the day by avoiding the outdoors on days with particularly high pollen and allergy forecasts. If you have to venture outside, make sure they wear sunglasses to protect their eyes or even a surgical mask over their mouths if necessary. Once they are back in the comfort of home, make sure they wash their hands and face, shower and change into fresh clothes free of allergens.

Staying alert to the comfort of your loved one or care receiver can go a long way in saving time on unnecessary doctor’s visits and doctor’s bills. Keep a close eye on them during the spring and summer months as allergies do not discriminate!

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