Developing a new allergy as an adult can be surprising, and frustrating. However, this phenomenon is becoming increasingly common for adults in every age group — even seniors — whether the allergy is to certain foods, pet dander, or a seasonal trigger like pollen.
There is no one explanation for the increasing incidence of adult-onset allergies; theories range from longer and more severe pollen seasons, environmental factors, or even an increased awareness of symptoms. For retirees, moving to a different city or climate might trigger a new reaction.
Yet for many seniors, treating seasonal allergies takes a backseat when managing more serious, chronic conditions. Symptoms like postnasal drip, nasal itching, nasal congestion, sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, and fatigue can also be misattributed to other illnesses. However, some allergy symptoms may actually exacerbate chronic respiratory conditions (including COPD and asthma) common in older adults, and shouldn’t be ignored.
Here are a few tips I recommend to alleviate your symptoms:
- Limit pollen exposure by staying inside. It can be tough to stay indoors when the weather is nice, but it’s essential to limit outdoor exposure and keep your windows and doors closed on days when allergens are high.
- Run your air conditioner. This is especially important as the weather gets warmer, because air conditioners can be helpful for seniors with lung or heart diseases who may have trouble breathing in hot and humid conditions. To ensure the air circulation minimizes pollutant exposure, make sure to change your filters and have your air conditioner serviced regularly.
- Check the forecast. Most local weather reports track levels of allergens and pollens in the air to help viewers stay informed about conditions in their area. There are also several mobile apps that can help seniors track pollen counts digitally.
- Keep clean. Make sure to wash all laundry regularly, especially anything you’ve worn outside — it could be covered with pollen. And don’t dry clothes outside on the line, as this can cause them to collect allergens.
- Visit your primary care doctor. If you suspect your symptoms are due to seasonal allergies, call your doctor — don’t wait. Physicians sometimes miss allergy symptoms in seniors, particularly when they’re focused on a more significant health issue, so be sure to speak up.
- Mind your medications. For older adults, many of whom are taking five or more prescriptions per day, it’s vital to check with your doctor before using allergy medications. Traditional antihistamines, in particular, can be dangerous to seniors, with common side effects including drowsiness and dizziness. Always talk to your doctor before self-medicating with over-the-counter drugs.
- Visit a specialist. Lastly, for seniors with stubborn symptoms, I highly recommend seeing an allergist. Through a simple skin test, an allergy expert can help determine what is causing your symptoms, and suggest practical ways to avoid those triggers. Allergists can also recommend the best form of treatment, whether it’s an oral medication or a type of immunotherapy, such as allergy shots.
- Consider other causes of allergy symptoms. Allergists can also tell you if your symptoms are unrelated to seasonal allergies. For instance, non-allergic rhinitis, a condition that affects up to a third of older adults, mimics many seasonal allergy symptoms, such as congestion and sneezing. For people with non-allergic rhinitis, traditional allergy treatments may be ineffective, so an allergist can prescribe a different remedy.
If you’re suffering from seasonal allergies, whether newly developed or not, make sure you get them treated by an expert, whether it’s your primary care doctor or an allergy specialist.