Spring brings with it a spirit of renewal. It acts as a reminder that we can all start fresh again every year, no matter how young or old we may be. This renewal happens around us no matter what: trees are waking up again, flowers are blooming, birds and other creatures are making themselves known. But the season also calls us to get up and take an active part in the reawakening.
It all sounds lovely. But for those of us with seasonal allergies, it can be a tenuous juggling act between being active and involved in the season’s splendors and staying tucked away to avoid our body’s confused immune responses. Especially for older adults, allergies can take a heavy toll if energy levels are already limited, if any cardiovascular or respiratory problems exist, or if they have a hard time sleeping at night as it is. Allergic reactions can compound these health problems in addition to the discomfort of itchy and irritated eyes, nose, and throat that the histamine response often brings. Seasonal allergies in the elderly can really bring us down unless we think ahead and take action in ways that can prevent discomfort and lift our aging loved ones back up.
Getting to Know the Specific Allergies in Older Adults and Working with Their Doctors
It may seem like a solid catch-all plan to just keep the allergy sufferer indoors all throughout the allergy season—which lasts quite a long time in the San Francisco Bay Area. But if instead you can get to the bottom of the specific list of allergens that cause histamine reactions in your loved one, then you can develop thoughtful strategies to avoid certain things without avoiding life altogether.
An older adult’s doctor is a great resource for investigating their particular reactions to the season. Allergies may not seem like a priority when there are bigger health concerns in the picture for an aging adult. But when seasonal allergies take a backseat, the discomfort can be unnecessarily miserable. And these inflammatory responses can lead to more serious issues and even chronic illnesses, especially if they have existing heart or lung issues. As a caregiver, you can be a powerful advocate for your aging loved one in conversations with their doctor to ensure that seasonal allergies become a part of the discussion. Now may be a good time to consider finding a great geriatric doctor in the Bay Area or even an allergy specialist.
To test for specific allergies, a doctor will perform scratch tests on an aging adult’s skin and watch for reactions to the individual allergens. While it’s a tedious and uncomfortable process, this single procedure could be the key to a pleasant spring and summer. Once the offensive allergens are identified, the doctor can make suggestions to take care when going outdoors at certain times or to prepare the home in a way that minimizes exposure to those allergens. They can also prescribe medications to counteract the autoimmune response when exposed to seasonal irritants. Allergy shots can be a bit of a hassle to commit to every couple of weeks or so, but if your aging loved one’s doctor suggests them it can really be worth the inconvenience and can significantly improve quality of life.
Other Tips to Manage Seasonal Allergies in Our Elderly Loved Ones
It’s not impossible for older adults to develop allergies for the first time, so don’t dismiss the symptoms if they persist longer than a cold or other illness should. Your awareness and proactive care can make a big difference if allergies are involved. Here are some ideas for how to prepare your loved one’s home and take care to reduce the impact that allergens might have:
- Follow local allergen forecasts. Once the doctor helps to identify an older adult’s specific allergies, you can keep an eye out for days when those particle levels are high and take extra care. In fact, mobile apps that report allergy forecasts are just one example of the innovative tech resources that can improve the lives of seniors.
- Run the air conditioner. Central air systems can help to filter contaminants out of the home air, but it’s important to choose High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and change them regularly.
- Purchase an air purifier. Especially if your aging loved one has allergies to things that are inside the home, a high-quality air purifier can help to limit their exposure.
- Investigate whether carpets, furniture, and bedding might be irritants. If you think an older adult is reacting to these plush home fixtures, you can try:
- using a vacuum cleaner with advanced filtration that is rated to remove allergens
- purchasing hypoallergenic pillows and bedding or pillow and mattress covers designed to keep allergens at bay
- consider removing carpets if the allergic reactions persist even with diligent vacuuming
- Keep an eye out for irritating chemicals in the home. Sometimes cleaning supplies, whether toxic or natural, can bring about allergy symptoms. If they do, it can be an easy strategy to replace them with alternatives that don’t bring on the same reactions. This is especially important with products that come in contact with an aging adults skin, such as laundry detergent on their clothes or those that linger for them to breathe in.
- Use the clothes dryer rather than hanging outside. Hanging clothes, bedding, and towels outside to dry can collect allergens and bring them right into the home.
- Limit outdoor exposure when offensive allergen levels are high. This includes keeping the doors and windows closed on these days.
- When you do go outdoors:
- make sure an aging adult wears sunglasses or other eyewear to prevent particles from getting near their eyes
- wash hands often and especially after coming back inside both to limit allergen exposure and because older adults can be more prone to colds and other infectious illnesses during allergy season
- change clothes and put them right in the wash after coming back inside to keep the irritants to a minimum
- Avoid over-the-counter antihistamine medications. While they may seem like a quick fix for pesky seasonal allergy symptoms, casual use of antihistamines can mean harmful side effects, particularly for older adults. Drowsiness and confusion can put them at greater risk of falls and other complications and antihistamines can also interact with certain medications.
It’s always a good time to check an aging adult’s home and routines for safety and to ensure that no pesky allergens are present. In fact, the season for spring cleaning and organizing is upon us, and you can even bring some of these tips into play to prep the home with your aging loved one’s allergies in mind. Consciously taking steps to prevent an older adult’s seasonal discomfort can also help prevent the isolation and depression that often occur if they are stuck inside, hiding from the outside world. Ideally, you can take advantage of the warmer, brighter weather to be more active together and more involved in the Bay Area community.
For more tips to raise an aging adult’s quality of life, check out Institute on Aging’s blog. With a commitment to seniors, disabled adults, their caregivers, and family members, IOA offers generous programs, services, and resources. Contact us at 415-750-4111 to find out how we can help improve your life.