Spring is here, and so are seasonal allergies. While the weather hasn’t quite caught up yet, the pollen levels are already shooting up, causing uncomfortable symptoms for many people. The overall pollen level in the Chicago area is considered moderate this week, but the symptoms are sometimes anything but moderate. Here’s everything you need to know about seasonal allergies: what it is, how to relieve symptoms, and how it effects seniors in particular.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies—allergic rhinitis or hay fever—occurs when your immune system overreacts to pollen or mold spores. These allergens are more common outdoors during spring and summer, when the trees and flowers are blooming.
Symptoms of hay fever include:
- Runny nose
- Sneezing, coughing
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy mouth or skin
- Puffy eyes
An estimated 50 million people suffer from allergies in the U.S. every year. Among them are more than 7 million seniors, however many seniors do not even realize they have allergies.
How seasonal allergies affect seniors
Hay fever is an inflammatory condition that may affect seniors worse than younger people. This is for a few reasons. First of all, our immune systems get weaker as we age. Older people are more susceptible to many illnesses, and they’re also more likely to suffer heavier symptoms. Older people’s nose mucus membranes are drier and have less elasticity. This increases the risk of chronic nasal congestion. In addition, pollen itself can aggravate heart conditions or lung diseases such as COPD.
Another problem for seniors is inadequate symptom relief. the anti-histamines that help relieve allergy symptoms often don’t interact well with other medicines seniors take for chronic conditions. Some anti-histamines may also increase blood pressure.
Even if you or your loved one never had allergies before, don’t assume you or they don’t have it now. Adult-onset allergies is increasing, so if you find you have lingering congestion, consider getting tested for environmental allergies.
Reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies
Unless you want to lock yourself indoors from April through September, you can’t avoid pollen or mold spores completely. There are some steps you can take, though, to limit your exposure and hopefully reduce symptoms.
- Limit your time outdoors during high pollen times, and keep your windows and doors closed. You can check your area’s projected pollen levels at your local weather station to know how bad it’s going to be.
- Wash your hands when you come into the house. You may even want to shower and put on fresh clothing after you’ve spent significant time outdoors.
- Avoid doing anything to stir up the pollen: don’t rake leaves, mow the lawn, or stand outside when the lawn is being mowed.
- Wear sunglasses outside to keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Certain foods that help fight inflammation may help relieve hay fever symptoms. Eat apples, walnuts, flax seed, leafy green vegetables, and foods rich in vitamin C.
If you think your senior loved one is suffering from allergies, especially if they are no longer verbal, make sure to discuss it with their doctor. Physicians often focus on the serious health problems, and don’t pay much attention to relatively minor issues like hay fever. There’s no reason for mom or dad to suffer, though. Their doctor may be able to prescribe something to help.