May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, but anyone who’s been outside in San Diego this year is more than aware of the pollen situation. Thanks to this year’s bumper crop of pollen-producing flowers, grasses, and weeds, the symphony of sneezing, sniffing and sinus swelling is inescapable. Seasonal allergies affect people of all ages, but caregivers in San Diego should be concerned about the impact that allergies and asthma can have on seniors. Adult-onset allergies are becoming common, and five to ten percent of all allergy sufferers are elderly. People can develop allergies at any age, but in seniors the symptoms are often obscured by other health issues. If you’re giving home care in San Diego, you should know the symptoms and solutions to seasonal allergies in seniors.
Winter Showers, Spring Superbloom
They say April showers bring May flowers, but in California, the rainy winter produced an epic superbloom of wildflowers and less flashy greenery that could be seen from space! After the winter showers brought the spring super bloom, the desert winds and Mother Nature left us in the middle of what some Southern Californians are calling Pollenpalooza! There’s simply too much pollen outside. Our bodies’ immune systems are designed to repel invaders, and for the unfortunate 21 million Americans with hayfever, rhinitis or nasal allergies, pollen is considered an invader. In response, the immune system makes an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), and the symptoms that result from releasing these hounds are an allergic reaction. Symptoms of seasonal allergies include a nose that runs with fluid or is stuffy and congested, post-nasal drip that causes endless coughing, and sneezing. At the same time, the eyes can itch, water, swell and get red and irritated. These symptoms may seem trivial, though annoying, but the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology asserts that allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the United States!
The Real 21st Century Epidemic
Caregivers who provide in home care in San Diego may already know that allergies are particularly troublesome for seniors. Even people who never had allergies as children or young adults are becoming allergic in their 60’s and 70’s. The National Institute of Health reports a “dramatic increase of all forms of allergies during the last decades also in the elderly.” In fact, they call allergies “a real “epidemic” of the twenty-first century, and the World Health Organization has classified allergies of all kinds the fourth most frequent chronic disease. A wide array of allergy medications, treatments, shots and remedies are available to sufferers of all ages, but medication isn’t always the best solution for seniors. Allergies present serious risks to seniors’ health, for several reasons:
- Allergies are often unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated in seniors. Doctors typically look for the symptoms of more serious conditions, or are helping seniors manage more serious conditions, and overlook simpler things like a runny nose.
- The widespread inflammation allergies cause hit seniors harder because of the way the immune system changes with age.
- Chronic allergies can spawn related illnesses like sinus infections, ear infections and upper respiratory infections that require antibiotics.
- Allergy symptoms can affect breathing because of the inflammation and irritation of the airways, nasal passages, and sinuses. Seniors with cardiovascular disease, lung disease or COPD can find additional breathing constraints hard to handle.
- The most commonly used allergy medications – antihistamines and decongestants – have side effects (dizziness, drowsiness, urine retention, confusion and dry mouth and eyes) that seniors don’t tolerate very well. They can also interact poorly with other common medications seniors take.
Eight Ways to Avoid Pollen
If medications are potentially risky, what can a home care companion for a senior or an elderly person in home care do to prevent or ease allergy symptoms for seniors? Minimizing exposure to pollen is the best way to avoid causing an immune system response in the first place. Here are eight lifestyles changes that will help:
- Choose your battles: Outdoor exercise is important to seniors but getting a snootful of pollen while doing it negates the benefits of sun, fresh air and endorphins. Monitor the pollen forecast on a site like com, and stay inside on maximum those redline pollen days.
- Avoiding the outdoors like Miss Havisham has its own risks so when you are outside, wear sunglasses to reduce eye irritation and wear a hat to keep the pollen out of your hair.
- As soon as you return home, wash your hands, shower thoroughly, and change into clean clothes. Otherwise, you’re just inviting the pollen to spread itself around your house. Wash your dog or outdoor cat off too – pollen sticks to them as easily as it does to your clothes.
- Fresh air is wonderful but remember what comes wafting inside on that balmy breeze. Keep your windows closed.
- Use your dryer instead of your clothesline – hanging your clothes outside to dry just means they’re picking up pollen along with that fresh air aroma.
- Service your A/C regularly and install a HEPA filter if possible. The circulated air will be cool and pollen-free.
- If you have pets, get a (HEPA) air purifier to clean the air of what they’re bringing inside.
- Allergies are an inflammatory response, so try eating more foods known to fight inflammation during allergy season such as apples, flax seed, leafy greens, ginger and walnuts. Anything high in Vitamin C helps too, and it certainly can’t hurt.
Seasonal allergies are drippy, tickly irritations for everyone, but particularly for seniors. Caregivers and seniors should know the best ways to avoid seasonal allergens and survive allergy season with a little relief.