Allergies are very common in children and adults, and while they are less common in the older population, senior citizens can still have allergies. However, it’s important to know that allergies in the elderly have to be approached differently than in younger people, from diagnosis to treatment.
Typically, allergies tend to decrease in people as they get older because their immune systems naturally get weaker and no longer react to allergens. However, older people can sometimes develop new allergies. This can happen, for example, if they find themselves in a new environment with high levels of new allergens, according to the AARP.
Allergies in older adults can be under-diagnosed, since doctors often think the symptoms are minor issues and instead focus on concerns like high blood pressure, the AARP states. Conversely, a runny nose might not be a symptom but might actually be a symptom of a condition called nonallergic rhinitis. This can be caused by things like weather changes, air quality, and strong smells. Runny noses can also be stimulated by eating. This is common in elderly patients and is treatable, CEENTA Otolaryngologist Michael Falcone, MD, said.
Accurately diagnosing and treating allergies is important because allergies may increase the risk of a stroke in older patients. People 45 years old and older with a history of hay fever have an 87 percent higher risk of a stroke compared to people without. Therefore, it is important older patients get a proper diagnosis from an allergy specialist.
If an older patient has allergies, a doctor should help them determine the best course of treatment. This is because, while most medications are very safe for them, some might aggravate existing medical problems or cause more serious ones. For example, some decongestants may increase blood pressure and cause insomnia, while others can be overly sedating.
More seriously, some allergy medicines like Benadryl are anticholinergic drugs, and some recent studies have suggested a link between these drugs and a greater risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Also, as people get older, their bodies aren’t able to moisturize the lining of their noses, which can lead to more mucous and congestion. However, antihistamines can dry out nasal passages, which can make this problem worse, the AARP states. Instead, saline rinses and increased humidity can help thin out mucous.
In addition to medicine, avoidance is a good way to prevent some allergies. For example, if someone is allergic to dust they should wash their sheets and use mattress covers to reduce exposure to dust mites.
Immunotherapy may also be useful in treating allergies in older patients. Immunotherapy is a system in which patients are given regularly-increasing doses to help the body build up a tolerance to those allergens. Immunotherapy can greatly reduce a patient’s symptoms and, in some cases, cure them.
Allergies can be an issue at any age, but with guidance from a doctor and proper care anyone can breathe easily again.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. To make an allergy appointment with one of our ear, nose, and throat doctors, call 704-295-3000.
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