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Allergic Rhinitis: Not Just a Problem for Youngsters

Allergic rhinitis, sometimes called hay fever, is an allergic reaction to something you breathe into your nose. It can happen any time of the year and it's not just a problem for kids. Adults and seniors also get allergic rhinitis. As a matter of fact, you can outgrow allergic rhinitis and then have it come back when you get older. You can also develop allergies for the first time even after you reach the age of retirement. Allergies in seniors can be problematic.

"According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergic rhinitis has increased 100 percent in each of the last three decades." —ENT Today

Why More People Are Having Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis

Studies from around the world confirm that allergic rhinitis is increasing. One reason may be that people move around more. Seniors may move from areas where there was less allergy exposure to areas where they are outdoors all year and are exposed to new allergens (an allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction). Most experts agree that increasing levels of air pollution may be making symptoms of allergic rhinitis worse.

"Three recent European studies support the hypothesis that an increase in air pollution has contributed to a rise in allergic rhinitis. The main culprits? Growing concentrations of sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon dioxide." —ENT Today

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Itchy nose, eyes or throat
  • Nasal congestion, runny nose, decreased sense of smell and fullness in the ears
  • Sneezing, coughing and tearing eyes
  • Headache, irritability and fatigue
  • Puffiness or dark circles under the eyes

What Can You Do About Allergic Rhinitis?

The best thing you can do about allergies in seniors is prevent your exposure to the things you are allergic to. If you don't know what you are allergic to, you can get tested. There are skin tests and blood tests that can tell you what you need to avoid. It could be pollens, molds, dust, or even some foods. Of course, you can't avoid everything, so allergy treatment is important, too.

  • Preventing indoor allergies.
    The best thing you can do to prevent allergies indoors is protect your bed with pillow and mattress covers that are impenetrable to dust mites, wash your bedding once a week in hot water and change your pillow cases every three days. This alone will reduce your indoor dust mite exposure by 90 percent. Look for mattress covers that totally enclose your mattress and zip shut. Consider using a hepa filter to remove allergens from the air in your home.

  • Preventing outdoor allergies. The best way to avoid outdoor pollens is to stay inside with your windows closed and the air conditioning on when the pollen count is high. Do the same when riding in your car. Take these precautions to prevent exposure to air pollution.
  • Medications. These include many over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants as well as prescriptions for newer antihistamines and steroidal nasal sprays.
  • Nasal irrigations.
    Flushing out your nose and sinuses with a saltwater solution can be very effective in washing away allergens and soothing swollen nasal membranes. Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays are available or you can make your own irrigating solution using one-half teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water.

  • Allergy shots. Also called immunotherapy, this allergy treatment is the only way to potentially cure allergic rhinitis. Allergy shots teach your body to gradually build up resistance to your allergies. This type of treatment works in up to 85 percent of people.

Some Special Precautions for Seniors and Caregivers

Seniors are particularly sensitive to air pollution. Studies show that ozone produced by exhaust fumes increases allergic rhinitis and can trigger an asthma attack. Seniors who are prone to asthma and are exposed to air pollutants like ozone are more likely to experience high blood pressure and heart problems. Seniors are also more likely to experience serious side effects from some types of allergic rhinitis medications. Here's how to approach allergies in seniors:

  • Seniors should remain indoors with the windows closed on days when high ozone levels are predicted. These days are most common in the summer when there is high pressure and lots of automobile traffic.
  • Know the difference between first and second generation antihistamines. Older, first generation antihistamines are commonly found in over-the-counter allergy medications. Seniors are more likely to experience side effects such as anxiety, confusion, sedation, blurred vision and urinary retention to these antihistamines. Newer antihistamines, usually available by prescription are much safer for seniors.

Allergic rhinitis is estimated to affect about 60 million Americans and it is increasing. If you notice symptoms of allergic rhinitis see your healthcare provider. Seniors with allergies may be at higher risk and need to take special care when taking medications for allergic rhinitis.