Allergies

Allergy-related conditions are something that you usually relate to childhood health, however, it is estimated that allergy prevalence in the elderly is between 5 and 10 percent. While some people grow out of their allergies, others will find that their allergies will continue into their older age. Some seniors may even develop allergies for the first time in their old age.

What are the Symptoms of Allergies?

There are a number of different kinds of allergic conditions that can affect a senior. Here are some of the most common allergy signs and symptoms.

Rhinitis is an allergic condition when the mucous membranes of the nose are inflamed. Symptoms of rhinitis include:

  • Itchy nose, throat, eyes, ears, and roof of the mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes

Sinusitis is a condition when the sinuses behind the cheekbones, around the eyes, and around the nose have long-lasting inflammation. Signs of this condition include:

  • Postnasal drip
  • Pressure in the face
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Persistent cough
  • Congestion
  • Yellow, green, or gray nasal discharge

Skin allergies can develop into various skin conditions and are typically expressed as itching, rashes, and discomfort. Skin allergy symptoms include:

  • Rashes
  • Inflamed, scaly, and itchy skin
  • Swelling in sensitive areas below the skin
  • Dry skin
  • Blisters

Elderly people can develop late-onset food allergies due to changing immune system responses. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Red, itchy rashes
  • Congested and/or itchy noses
  • Watery eyes
  • Vomiting and intestinal discomfort
  • Angioedema
  • Swelling

It should also be noted that anaphylaxis is a food allergy symptom that can be extremely dangerous. Someone experiencing anaphylaxis may show the following signs:

  • Wheezing, trouble breathing and tightness in the chest
  • Tingling sensations in limbs or face
  • Hoarseness or tightness in the throat

Causes of Allergies

Generally, elderly immune systems mean an increased susceptibility to infection difficulties with autoimmunity, and a decreased response to vaccinations as well as wound healing. When it comes to the common allergic exacerbations of pollen, mold, or pet dander, the elderly body is at a disadvantage in protecting itself against these substances.

As a result of immunosenescence, or the aging of one’s immune system, seniors are likely to experience a change in the way their bodies handle offending allergens, as well as certain foods and drugs.

Diagnosing Allergies

To find out if you have an allergy, you will want to visit an allergist. The doctor will ask you about your medical history, and symptoms. They will then move on to a physical exam and conducting the allergy test.

They may perform a skin or blood allergy test. Most allergists prefer skin testing as it is the standard practice and tends to be the most accurate. In the event that a medication is interfering with the interpretation of the test or in the case of severe skin rashes, a blood test may be ordered.

Treatments of Allergies

When dealing with allergies in older adults, it’s important to isolate the symptoms of other pre-existing conditions and others that may be brought on by offending allergens. Considering allergies can arise simply from combining the wrong medications, always check with your doctor before adding a new pill or supplement to your regimen.

Each type of allergy can be treated in different ways, however, the most common methods of allergy treatment include:

Antihistamines

These are the mainstay in the treatment of allergies, especially for younger people. First-generation antihistamines like chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine are generally effective in reducing sneezing, itching, and rhinorrhea.

Decongestants

These are used to reduce nasal swelling, which in turn relieves congestion. The most common used agent is pseudoephedrine, however, it does have the potential to stimulate the nervous system to produce side effects like anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and palpitations.

Anti-Inflammatory Nasal Sprays

Most of these medications are safe for older adults to use. For most people, these agents are effective in reducing sneezing, itching, congestion, and rhinorrhea with very minimal side effects. Common nonsteroidal agents include cromolyn, azelastine, and olopatadine. Otherwise, corticosteroid versions are available as beclomethasone, flunisolide, triamcinolone, budesonide, fluticasone and ciclesonide.

Immunotherapy and Emergency Options

If the available medications are generally ineffective or the risks are too high for elderly patients, another treatment option is immunotherapy.

Essentially, patients are injected with extremely small amounts of an allergen, eventually increasing the dosage to develop a resistance. These “allergy shots” are an effective long-term treatment that decreases the symptoms of rhinitis, asthma, conjunctivitis, or even insect stings.

For patients who experience extreme reactions to food allergens or certain insect venoms, it is usually a good idea to carry a form of auto-injectable epinephrine. These handy devices can be used to prevent severe anaphylaxis, which can be a major medical emergency if left unattended to.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do allergies get worse with age?

Seasonal allergies do tend to get worse with age, mostly because of the fact that our immune systems tend to break down. This means that seniors are likely to experience a change in the way their bodies handle allergens. As you get older, it's harder for your body to protect itself from common allergens.

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What does "hypoallergenic" mean?

These labels are generally found on beauty products and it means that these products are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Although no product can guarantee not to trigger allergies, it’s still recommended to buy hypoallergenic products, especially if your allergies are severe.

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